How does music affect emotions and thought? This is the topic that has captured my attention. Again, part of the reason for this is my personal interest in both music and psychology. Yet this topic is also so interesting to me because of the applications of the results. Due to how strong the effects of music on the brain can be, using music as a treatment of sorts for the mind is a very real possibility. Essentially, the topic of music and the mind is not just one of frivolous curiosity, but one that could have profound and powerful effects in the real world.
Yet a topic so broad as music and the mind isn’t something so easy to type into a search bar and gain productive and efficient results. So perhaps a bit more of specificity is required. For that sake, this list of questions will be my framework for research, and will hopefully be answered by the end of this escapade.
- How do different genres of music affect emotions and the brain?
- Do different songs of the same genre invoke different emotions?
- How do different people react to the same songs?
- Do specific instruments invoke specific emotions?
- What is the actual chemical activity in the brain caused by music?
- How do different physical reactions in the brain vary from song to song?
- Why does music have so strong a capability to affect emotions?
- Why can a specific song incite a specific memory so strongly?
- How does the music we listen to affect the thoughts we have?
- Why do different people like different genres of music, and does this tie into different brain structures and the music’s effect on them?
- How can music be used to help treat mental health disorders?
There’s no way to say it without sounding like a cliche- I grew up with music. My Dad was in a band when I was a kid, I started learning piano when I was 5 or 6 (no one can seem to remember the exact age), and an essential part of Sunday mornings was always Jamie Cullum playing in the background of breakfast. I now find myself in marching band playing flute, and attempting to teach myself guitar. To say music is a large part of my life would be an understatement.
As I grew up, I also came to be interested in psychology. How other people think and how they see the world fascinates me, despite my choice to take AP U.S. History rather than AP Psych. For some reason, I have never been able to learn enough about how our brains work.
So combining music and psychology? That sounds like an fascinating topic to me.
Though a relatively new science, the study of the psychology of music has already made some impressive discoveries. For instance, the connection between music and memory. The documentary Alive Inside chronicles the reactions of Alzheimer’s patients when presented with music they used to listen to when they were younger. Patients who are regularly unresponsive suddenly sing along to music and answer questions about their past down to specific dates.
Yet of course, the connection of music and mind goes deeper than memory.
Currently, I’m reading the book This is your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession by Daniel J. Levitin. It investigates how music affects the brain through memory, emotions, behavioral science, and more. Essentially, it looks into why music is important to us as humans, and refutes the idea that it is simply an evolutionary byproduct of our growth intellectually as a species.
Though I have much more to say on this topic, through knowledge gained from personal experience as well as research, this is only the first post. So for now, I leave you with a piece of music I have found to invoke powerful emotions that vary from person to person. Unless you are highly offended by classical or pianistic music, I would recommend giving it a listen.