Does music really affect the brain?

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Anna Izquierdo, Staff Reporter

As the new year begins and transitions from the first to the second semester, many individuals– specifically students–are found mindlessly listening to music at all times of the day and sometimes, even into the early hours of the morning. Research has determined that the impact of music on the brain is powerful. 

“Music is primal,” according to Johnathan Burdette, a neuroradiologist at the Wake Forest Baptist Medical School. It affects all of us, but in unique, personal ways that many people tend not to think about. “Your brain has a reaction when you like or don’t like something, including music,” says Burdette.

He has discovered that there are drastic differences in the reactions that occur in the brain in response to whether an individual likes a particular song or not. To measure these reactions, he and his fellow investigators use a tool called functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), which depicts brain activity through changes in one’s blood flow. Each fMRI scan shows a consistent pattern and indicates that it is the preferences of the listener, and not the genre of music that he or she listened to, that has the greatest impact on brain connectivity.

The researchers have also found that listening to a person’s favorite song changes the connectivity between the auditory areas of the brain and the region of the brain reserved for memory and social emotional consolidation. “These findings may explain why comparable mental and emotional states can be experienced by people listening to music that differs as wildly from Beethoven to Eminem,” they say. Burdette states that “associations with certain types of music involve several parts of the brain…and in some cases, you might not even like the song, but like the memories or feelings…associated with it.” 

In relation to music and the minds of students, two University of Central Florida professors, Kiminobu Sugaya and Ayako Yonetani, discovered that music has the power to reduce stress, pain, and symptoms of depression, common conditions with which many students around the world struggle. Typically, when one listens to a song, the brain releases dopamine, a chemical in the brain that produces the emotions of happiness or pleasure. Dopamine allows individuals to express their emotions in a way that does not only involve a specific method of action, but instead, can be expressed in a variety of creative ways, such as through a dance or a song. 

The community at Mount Pisgah, classmates and faculty alike, listens to a variety of musical artists and genres. When surveyed, it was found that most of the respondents listen to at least 15 minutes of music per day, at a minimum, and with a majority voting for an hour or more.

It was also found that the community in general, prefers to listen to a mix of genres, with there being a close tie between pop and rap, and with rock music coming up close behind. Other, more obscure genres, such as classical music, are not as popular. Around the school, a wide range of artists can be heard, varying from Led Zeppelin and Metallica to more modern artists including Post Malone and Ed Sheeran. One anonymous student chooses to listen to “Nickleback and the guy that plays Mighty Hand.”

From the results of a highschool-wide survey, it is evident that music serves a variety of purposes. Several individuals say they listen to music because it helps them calm down, soothes them, and aids with positivity and better moods. One student fond of Taylor Swift and Christian music loves listening to music because “it makes [them] cry.” Other students, in contrast, say they listen to music because it “associates with two of [their] favorite activities: singing and acting” and “helps block out things around [them].”

In order to get the day going after an all-nighter, one student finds that listening to country music artists such as Luke Combs, Old Dominion, and Thomas Rhett “lightens the mood.” Other feedback that was received said that listening to music “is so life-giving…[and] can make any hard day better.” This student, in particular, enjoys listening to Chopin piano music and genres such as bossa nova, english madrigals, and modern bluegrass and folk. 

Music, according to several students, is therapeutic and helps with emotions, as well as gives inspiration, when needed. Another individual said that music “sets a vibe for the moment” and helps to “cool [them] down” in times of frustration or anxiety. When taking the survey, one student solely voted for Christian music because “[they] love Jesus” specifically because their favorite artist is the Lord. 

One student described it best, when he stated that music, “a universal language.”Music has the potential to unite the small Mount Pisgah community in many imaginable ways. As the days pass and the music plays in our collective heads, an interesting challenge would be for each of us to listen to a song or genre out of the normal. Musical preferences and boundaries have the potential to change, so why not alter them now?