A young woman listens to music through headphones.

Music to Your Ears: How Songs Can Affect the Brain


Have you ever turned on the radio and experienced pure joy as your favorite song starts playing through your speakers? While it may just seem like a small moment of happiness, there is actually a lot happening in your brain as you listen to music. From activating connections in your mind to helping people overcome injury, there is so much that music can do. 

Music Impacts Your Thinking 

One study sought to show whether people had the same reactions to certain types of music. After identifying participants’ music preferences, researchers played different songs while scanning their brains. They found that a person’s favorite song caused the most connection in the default mode network (DMN) in the brain, which can affect memory, introspective thought, and the ability to read others’ emotions, while their least favorite type of music caused a poor connection.

Music Impacts Your Emotions 

While scientists aren’t sure what parts of the brain identify a melody and which determine the appropriate emotion to accompany the tune when hearing it, researchers have found that these areas are separate from one another. For example, researchers studied a woman who could no longer recognize music of any sort after a brain injury. She couldn’t distinguish between two very different melodies when doctors played them for her. However, brain scans showed she experienced similar emotions to other listeners when listening to a piece — she felt joy when a happy song came on and experienced sadness when a gloomy song came on. 

Music Therapy for Patients with Neurological Conditions  

Aphasia is a condition in which people are unable to comprehend or utilize speech after a stroke or other severe neurological event. Researchers have looked into the potential benefits of using melodic intonation therapy (MIT) to help them recover basic speech skills. During this process, a therapist sings 2-3 syllable phrases slowly, putting emphasis on certain parts of the word and adding a tap to the hand or arm each time there is a new syllable. Patients are eventually asked to repeat the process and might be able to speak five-syllable words on their own after some time. Researchers believe this is due to the music engaging both the left brain and the right brain, so damage to one hemisphere doesn’t have as significant of an impact. 

Researchers are also studying the effects of emotionally stimulating music on people with epilepsy and the efficacy of music therapy to reduce seizures. Since music can affect the brain, researchers hypothesized that songs could affect a patient’s limbic and cerebral activity to reduce the frequency of seizures. They found that the majority of participants who passively listened to this music experienced fewer seizures than people who did not listen to the music. 

Always be sure to follow your doctor’s treatment plan and ask them about new therapies before trying them. Our Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Group primary care physicians and expert neurologists are here to help you get to a better state of health. 

Ready to build that connection in the default mode network? Check out our Spotify for curated playlists of our favorite songs. 

 

Sources: 
ScienceDaily | Music has powerful (and visible) effects on the brain
NCBI | Music and the brain: the neuroscience of music and musical appreciation
Scientific American | Music And The Brain
NPR | 'The Power Of Music' To Affect The Brain
NCBI | Melodic Intonation Therapy: Shared Insights on How it is Done and Why it Might Help
VeryWell Health | Understanding the Default Mode Network

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