Listening to music is often stressful

What effects does music have on our brain?

Music triggers emotions, awakens memories, lets us tap with our fingers in time, tap our feet, makes us dance. Music influences body and mind, we've all probably experienced that ourselves. For decades, scientists have been studying what exactly happens in the brain when we come into contact with music.

How does the music actually get into our brain and our consciousness? Our inner ear transmits sound to the brain stem via the auditory nerve. From there it gets into the auditory cortex. Before we become aware of it, however, it passes through several stations that process, filter and supplement the acoustic stimuli.

There is no single music center in the brain. The auditory cortex is involved, as well as the Broca area (one of the two language centers), motor and even visual areas. When we listen to music, we often see a certain scene in front of us - the band on stage or a situation in which we once heard the music. The limbic system, our emotional center, and the reward system also play a major role in listening to music.

Not everyone perceives music in the same way - our experiences have a major impact on how we experience music. A piece of music can trigger different emotions in different people, depending on which memories it is linked to.

The brain in a rush of music

Making music and listening to music trigger the same effects in the brain as eating, exercising, sex or drugs. Endorphins, our body's own happiness hormones, are released and the stress hormone cortisol is reduced. In addition, the neurotransmitter dopamine, which plays an important role in the reward system of our brain and has a motivating effect, is increasingly released.

Making music with other people or enjoying a concert also stimulates the release of oxytocin. Oxytocin is known as a bonding hormone because it promotes trust and sympathy between people. All these changes in our brain chemistry block pain, reduce stress and trigger positive emotions - music makes you happy. Incidentally, this does not only apply to happy music: If we feel sad or angry, listening to music with the same mood also improves our well-being.

Music connects - including our nerve cells

Music not only has chemical effects on our brain, but also structural ones. Musical stimuli ensure that the nerve cells in our brain interconnect again and that the brain areas network better with one another. The brain's ability to change in this way is known as neuroplasticity.

The brains of professional musicians show some differences compared to non-musicians: The connection between the two halves of the brain, the corpus callosum, is much stronger. This suggests that the two halves of the brain can communicate better with each other. Musicians' brains also have more gray matter in areas that are responsible for hearing, spatial vision and motor skills.

Does music make you smart?

In the 1990s, a study that postulated the so-called Mozart effect caused a sensation: According to the study, listening to Mozart music led to a better result in the intelligence test. Today it is assumed that this increase in performance is less related to Mozart's composition than to a fundamental presence effect that increases concentration and well-being. This also applies to other music genres, provided that it is a preferred music style of the person concerned.

So music doesn't generally make you smart. However, it does activate the brain in a variety of ways. How exactly is different for each person.

What music should I listen to?

Which music brings you the most positive effects depends on what you want to achieve with it. Basically, the music has the most positive effect on our well-being that we like best. Studies show that blood flow to the brain is more stimulated when we like the piece of music. However, if it is a question of concentrating - for example to learn or read - instrumental music is better because linguistic stimuli tend to distract us.

Does music make you healthy?

There is more and more research showing that music has a positive effect not only on our emotional, but also on our physical well-being. When listening to music, scientists found an increase in antibodies and cells that protect us against bacteria. The use of music also had positive effects in the therapy of a wide variety of diseases, from depression and insomnia to ADHD and schizophrenia to Parkinson's, dementia and strokes.

So there is hardly an easier, cheaper and, above all, more enjoyable way of doing something good for our body and mind than putting on the headphones again and again.

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