Brains and The Beat: How Music Affects Us

music-therapyMusic is a powerful antidote for everything from anxiety to isolation. The amazing, Maya Angelou once said, “Music was my refuge. I could crawl into the space between the notes and curl my back to loneliness.” What a beautiful metaphor.

But, it’s not all about images and symbols. A large body of scientific research has shown the healing effects of music. Children learn better, moods improve, insomniacs find sleep, and stress abates, all with the help of rhythm and bass.

Until now, though, scientists disagreed over whether there was a specific area in the brain dedicated to processing music. Those who believed that there was such an area postulated that this means that humans are hard-wired to respond to musical sounds. Conversely, some researchers believed that music evolved over time, and that humans are affected by it, but that they were not made with music in mind.

To answer this question, researchers at MIT used MRI technology to look at various neural populations, or neural ensembles, in the brain. The scientists used these images to determine whether music was responded to by neural populations that were already programmed to respond to different sounds, or whether music had its own set of neural responders. The results unequivocally showed that music does, in fact, have its own set of neural responders.

Let’s use an analogy to clarify this idea. Everyone is familiar with the term “separation of labor” right? The mailman drops off your mail, but the FedEx guy drops off your overnight packages. Well, unless you used overnight mail, but you get the idea. Everyone has their own job.

Okay, let’s try this again. You have one outfit that you wear to job interviews. It is specific for interviewing. You don’t wear it to have lunch with friends or go to they gym. Only for interviewing for a new position. So, if you are wearing that suit, we can assume that you are looking for a job, right? Well, the same idea applies here. Because there are parts of the brain that are dedicated to receiving music, and only music, we can assume that humans were meant to be tapped into the groove.

Why does this matter?

It matters because there are days when we feel like everything is going wrong, and music is there to help us.

It matters because sharing time with others while listening to our favorite songs is an amazing way to bond.

It matters because if we are suffering from anxiety, depression, loneliness, or grief, music can be a soft, warm, blanket to our agitated senses.

But, most of all, it matters because it reminds us that we are all built from the same stuff. An important piece of information to hold on to in this ever-changing world.

If you’d like more information on coping strategies or help connecting to others, contact us. We are here to help.