Your Brain on Music

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Metallica vs. Mozart: Your mind on music

It can be appreciated by all cultures and ages. As infants and toddlers, we were sung lullabies while being put to sleep. Music is a universal language. It can be used to celebrate or ease pain. While a slow steady piano melody can be deemed soothing, at the same time screaming to fast power chords can drown out ordinary daily stressors. There is a favorite genre for everybody’s niche: country, dubstep, rock, rap, pop, classical.

Music influences the amount of cortisone, a hormone in the body that arouses stress, to decrease. After the stress has dissipates, we feel enjoyment due to the chemicals serotonin and dopamine. Serotonin largely influences learning patterns and mood. It is commonly used in anti-depressant medications. Dopamine is a chemical substance that, when released in the brain, creates a feel-good state. It is released when listening to music, eating sweets, doing cocaine, and being in love. Music really is like a drug!

Research on dopamine has solidified the fact that we acquire pleasure from listening to music. In early 2011, researchers at McGill University in Montreal studied PET scans and MRI’s of patients listening to their favorite songs.1 They found that dopamine levels increased as much as nine percent for the participants’ favorite songs. With the drug-like response it creates, it is no wonder we carry around our iPods loaded with endless song count!

It has the power to awe as well as to heal.

Playing an instrument regularly changes the anatomy, or wiring, of the brain. Recent evidence shows that when comparing a musician’s brain to a non-musician’s brain, they are structurally and functionally different.2 Even beginning to learn an instrument can induce, or trigger, change the neurophysiology of the brain. The primary auditory cortex, associated with greater pitch discrimination, is larger in musicians. This part of the brain is also responsible for memory and other language...
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