Music is one connection that many humans share a relationship with, this is because music is an extremely relevant art form in our society.
But why do we listen to music in the first place? There are many reasons, such as “to relieve tension, pass the time, fill uncomfortable silences, alleviate feelings of loneliness, manage their mood, and relieve boredom” (Lonsdale). Music can be used as a creative medium for communication — as an emotional outlet to deal with the adversities of life, a way to provide a social commentary about our society, or even as just a way to alleviate boredom. Yet despite the varying nature and purposes of music, the music we enjoy listening to carries a common multitude of effects that everyone can experience — in both our minds and bodies. These experiences affect us very deeply, they can be beneficial or harmful, and may even be so influential that it changes who we are. Listening to music you love seems to always make you feel good, and “Most people agree that music is an especially potent pleasurable stimulus that is frequently used to affect emotional states. It has been empirically demonstrated that music can effectively elicit highly pleasurable emotional responses” (Salimpoor et al). But why do we get that feeling of pleasure while listening to music? This is because when you listen to music you love, you get a rush of dopamine, “Our results provide, to the best of our knowledge, the first direct evidence that the intense pleasure experienced when listening to music is associated with dopamine activity in the mesolimbic reward system, including both dorsal and ventral striatum” (Salimpoor et al).
The music we love to listen to releases dopamine in our bodies, which is what triggers the uplifting and rewarding feeling that music provides. This is what motivates us to listen to music, because “Enhancing emotional well-being is one of the primary goals of listening to music. People report listening to music for a range of emotional purposes, including to ‘feel better’, to reduce stress, to become energized, for great pleasure, and for the intensity of the emotional experience” (McFerran 207). In fact, the feelings are so powerful that it’s one of the most pleasurable experiences you can have, “Music has been recognized as one of the two most likely ways of achieving the peak experiences described by humanist psychologist, Abraham Maslow (the other was sex; Maslow, 1976)” (McFerran 221). Next time you need something to lift your spirits, music can fulfill that need. If you have a desire to experience one of the best feelings you may ever have, music can fulfill that need. While the dopamine rush that music elicits can be delightful, one downside is that it may have the potential to be addictive. This is because “overly high dopamine release and a resulting disturbed homeostasis are thought to be at the core of the addiction phenomenon, regardless of the object of addiction” (Ahrends).
While you may believe that listening to music is a passive experience that isn’t very effective, the pleasure we get from it is so powerful that it can quite literally be addictive — strangely enough. The reason it’s especially surprising that music rewards us with such powerful emotions is because it seems to have no evolutionary value, “Humans experience intense pleasure to certain stimuli, such as food, psychoactive drugs and money; these rewards are largely mediated by dopaminergic activity in the mesolimbic system, which has been implicated in reinforcement and motivation” (Salimpoor et al). Eating food and making money gives us a dose of dopamine because they help us survive, “These rewarding stimuli are either biological reinforcers that are necessary for survival, synthetic chemicals that directly promote dopaminergic neurotransmission, or tangible items that are secondary rewards” (Salimpoor et al). It makes sense that food and money are motivating, but why music? As it turns out, music does a little more than give us an emotional high.
It carries with it many benefits that are practical and incredibly effective. Music is a very effective tool in reducing both anxiety and pain — after undergoing surgery, patients “reported feeling less pain and anxiety than those who did not listen to music, and they were also less likely to need pain medication” (Whiteman). Music is so powerful that listening to it after surgery essentially replaced actual pain medication for some patients.
But how does it relieve pain? No one definitively knows, but “Many researchers believe one reason is because listening to music triggers the release of opioids in the brain, the body’s natural pain relievers” (Whiteman). Music can act as a completely natural pain reliever, and can help calm down those who struggle with anxiety. With such benefits, music should be regularly played for patients in hospital settings. But music isn’t limited to alleviating just pain and anxiety, it has also been found to decrease stress. It lowers stress by “lowering the body’s cortisol levels – the hormone released in response to stress” (Whiteman). Listening to music you like can melt your stress away and keep your anxiety at bay.
And while music may not be able to completely cure your anxiety or get rid of stress completely, it is a very useful tool for providing some relief. If you’re ever stuck in a creative rut or need a little extra brain power, research says that classical music may just be what you need, “Exposure to Mozart’s K. 448 has been found to enhance processing speed, attention, and short term memory” (McFerran 185). By listening to Mozart you can get a sudden boost of intellect. This boost in brain power by Mozart’s music is known as the “‘Mozart Effect’, (ME)” (McFerran 185). Whether you’re a student who’s studying or someone who wants to improve their job performance, classical music can supposedly help you out. But how true exactly is this? It doesn’t bode well that “Several dozen papers now exist that have sought to replicate and extend the ME. Of these, some have found evidence of the effect, however, many have not” (McFerran 185).
The experiment must be flawed if it’s not able to be replicated consistently. It also doesn’t make sense that a specific genre can make you more creative — especially if it’s something that you wouldn’t enjoy listening to. And that would be right, because “Research has since shown that the ME is not specific to music by Mozart; rather, it may be elicited by stimuli that are preferred by the listener, such as music or stories” (McFerran 189). As long as you’re listening to music that you like, you can enjoy the benefit of the Mozart Effect — the effect is not limited to just Mozart. Such an effect may be beneficial among students in school. In fact, one experiment tested to see how music can influence our writing.
One group of kids wrote an essay about whatever they wanted with music on in the background, and the other group wrote with no music in the background. The results showed “that the pupils who wrote their essays in the accompaniment of the background music used more words in their essays than those in the control group” (Batur). It seems that music can increase literacy and thus help us write better. Having background music on in class and while studying may help students perform better in many areas, not just writing. While music contains many benefits and drawbacks, it also carries with it great influence.
Maja Djikic wanted to know exactly how music influences our personality, and ran an experiment to find out how, finding that “Whereas music appears to enhance self-reported variability in personality, lyrics appear to suppress it” (Djikic). While music can only be heard, lyrics can be understood. It’s nearly impossible to know the intention and underlying meaning of a song if it’s just music. But lyrics are much more personal and convey specific emotions much more effectively. Music can open up a whole realm of possibilities and interpretations, while lyrics paint a very specific picture.
These lyrics can be relateable or conflicting with our own experiences and perspectives, effectively making us “identify or contrast ourselves, further cementing whatever ideas we have about our own personality” (Djikic). Examining and interpreting these lyrics can further reinforce how we already see ourselves. However, since music is more broad and ambiguous, exploring it can expand our horizons and may even help us learn more about ourselves. Music is a fascinating subject.
Music is just sound from instruments and lyrics, yet it has such a profound effect on us. Whether music is used as an emotional outlet to cope with hardships, to pass the time, or as just a hobby, it affects us all very deeply. And despite how individualistic music is, it affects us very similarly. It evokes such powerful emotions that it’s one of the best feelings you can ever have (McFerran 221).
It can calm us down by relieving stress and anxiety, and even reduce physical pain we may have (Whiteman). Music may be so influential that it makes us smarter through the “Mozart Effect” (McFerran 185). And music may even be so impactful that it shapes our personality and changes who we are (Djikic). With such effects it’s no surprise that music has “persisted through cultures and generations and are pre-eminent in most people’s lives” (Salimpoor et al). Music is such a passionate and influential art form that persists among many cultures — a creative medium that has lived through generations.
Music has managed to stay in our society for so long only because of how influential it truly is.