By Alexandra Few
Music has such a profound impact in our lives and most of us turn to it for a number of reasons. Whether you use it to put a smile on your face or as a source of comfort when you’re sad, a wide diversity of music surrounds us and there is always more waiting to be explored. Research has dug deep in uncovering the impact music has on altering our mood, and it all comes down to what is going on in our brain.
In a research study published in 2011, it was found that when you are enjoying music you are listening to, your dopamine levels, which are your “happy brain chemicals”, increase and cause your brain to have a peak emotional response to the music. In other words, you start feeling happy. Dopamine is responsible for the reward response in your brain, which means the more you listen to music that makes you feel happy, you are convincing your brain to think you are being rewarded.
Researchers discovered this by giving PET scans to participants who listened to either pleasurable or neutral music. The results confirmed this direct increase in the reward parts of the brain, as well as increases in heart rate, respiration, and electrodermal response (emotional arousal), all indicating a more positive response.
“Dopamine is pivotal for establishing and maintaining behaviour. If music-induced emotional states can lead to dopamine release, as our findings indicate, it may begin to explain why musical experiences are so valued.”
Music also boosts creative energy and brain function through alpha waves, which offer feelings of increased creativity, and theta waves, which are associated with learning, dreaming, and relaxing.
Are we able to force ourselves to be in a good mood and release the dopamine hormones just by listening to happy music? Researchers Yuna Ferguson and Kennon Sheldon conducted two experimental studies, which are published in The Journal of Positive Psychology. The first study assigned participants to listen to 12 minutes of upbeat and happy music with the intention of boosting their mood. They found that there was a higher positive mood established, compared to participants who were listening to music without attempting to alter their mood. In the second study, participates who were told to intentionally try to become happier, reported increases in happiness after listening to positive music during five separate lab sessions over a two-week period. The take away? Listen to music that makes you happy, with the intention of being happy, and you can take part in controlling your mood.
In another study researchers Roni Shifriss, Ehud Bodner, and Yuval Palgi discovered two important strategies for mood regulation through music: Distraction and Focusing. As stated in the journal article, distraction shifts attention from one emotional aspect of a situation to another, while focusing uses resources to increase attention on a specific emotion. Focusing on a sad or negative emotional experience while listening to music allows individuals to connect further with their emotions.
“People who prefer listening to happy music when they are in a bad mood believe they can actively influence their negative mood by listening to mood-contradictory music. Whereas people who prefer listening to mood-matching music are interested in using music as an expression of their mood rather than trying to lift their mood” - Roni Shifriss, Ehud Bodner, & Yuval Palgi
For those who consider music as a friend, research shows it can serve as a surrogate for people experiencing situations that need emotional support. In one search study , researchers Chan Hean Lee, Eduardo Andrade, split 233 participants into two groups: a friend group and a music group. They were both given twelve sad and negative scenarios, and those in the music group were asked if they would rather listen to cheerful or sad songs. The results found that the majority of people preferred sad music. This was also dependent on whether they had experienced separation or a broken interpersonal relationship. This demonstrates that not only does music affect our mood, our mood affects the music we choose. The research also indicates sad music will further keep us focused on the sad mood we are in. However, as stated above, focusing on it allows individuals to further connect with their emotions, which is beneficial in the long run.
Music has such a huge impact on our mood and how we feel. So much so, that there is therapy that incorporates music. The Canadian Music Therapy Trust Fund, a music therapy organization located in Toronto, offers help from various music therapists that work to reach a variety of goals dependent on the individual. They work to decrease anxiety, depression, increase self-expression, communication skills, and more.
Jess Dickie, accredited musical therapist (Neurologic Music Therapy) and owner of Connections Music Therapy states: “In therapy, the music is mainly dependent on the clients’ interests. It needs to be enjoyable for the therapy to be effective. When songs are used, they need to be relatable, relevant for the activity/intervention and age appropriate/of interest to the client.”
In regards to how music therapy can help, Jess says: “Music is strongly connected to the area of the brain that processes memory- hence why music therapy has a strong impact on those with dementia and brain injuries. Music that has been involved in the defining moments of your life will often allow you to relive those moments when listening to it even years later.”
Jess also provides details on just how impactful music can be. She says: “If you’re not sure if music can affect how you are feeling, try watching a sad movie with no sound, or a thriller with no sound. You will find the dramatic scenes are not nearly as dramatic and do not pull on your heart strings the way they otherwise would. Even with the dialogue, a scene is bare and empty without the sound track.”
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Miya Adout, a certified music therapist and founder of Miya Music Therapy explains diversity in music therapy. Miya says: “In any given day I may be working with heavy metal music, classical music, and jazz! After getting to know a client, we will come to learn their musical preferences including style and tempo. The way we use music with a particular client will change depending on their needs and the music therapist’s development of goals and objectives to meet those needs. Goal areas can include those in social, emotional, cognitive, communicative and motor domains.”
No matter what device or platform you listen to music on, it has a profound impact on how we feel. Whether you choose music that is cheerful, sad, or something in between - it can transform us, uplift us, and be there for us. Don’t forget to tune into VIBE105 FM for your daily dose of happy!