How often have you turned to music to uplift you even further in happy times, or sought the comfort of music when melancholy strikes? Music affects us all. But only in recent times have scientists sought to describe and measure how music affects us at an emotional level. Researching the links between the brain indicates that listening to and playing music really can change how our brains, and our bodies, work.
Power of music
It looks like the healing power of music, over soul and body, is only just beginning to be understood, although music therapy isn’t new. For many years therapists have been advocating the use of music – both listening and study – to the reduction of stress and anxiety, the relief of pain. And music has also been advocated as an aid for positive shift in mood and emotional states.
Doctors now believe using music therapy in hospitals and nursing homes not only makes people feel better, but also makes them heal faster. And around the country, medical experts are starting to apply the new revelations about music’s influence on the mind to treating patients. In 1 study, researcher Michael Thaut and his group detailed how victims of stroke, cerebral palsy and Parkinson’s disease who worked to music took larger, more balanced strides than those whose treatment had no accompaniment.
Other researchers have discovered the sound of drums can influence how bodies work. Quoted in a 2001 article in USA Today, Suzanne Hasner, chairwoman of the music therapy department at Berklee College of Music in Boston, says even people who have dementia or head injuries maintain musical capability. The article reported results of an experiment in which researchers in the Mind-Body Wellness Center in Meadville, Pa., monitored 111 cancer sufferers who played drums for thirty minutes a day.
They found strengthened immune systems and increased levels of cancer-fighting cells in lots of the patients. The American Music Therapy Organization asserts music therapy may allow for”emotional intimacy with caregivers and families, relaxation for the whole family, and meaningful time spent together in a positive, creative way”. Scientists have been making progress in its exploration into why music should have this effect. In 2001 Dr. Anne Blood and Robert Zatorre of McGill University in Montreal, used positron emission tomography, or PET scans, to find out if certain brain structures were stimulated by music. In their analysis, Blood and Zatorre requested 10 musicians, five men and five women, to select stirring music.
What is next?
The subjects were then given PET scans as they listened to four kinds of audio stimuli – the chosen music, other music, overall noise or silence. Each sequence was repeated three times in random order. Blood stated when the subjects heard the music which gave them “chills,” that the PET scans detected activity in the portions of the brain that are also stimulated by sex and food. Just why people developed such a biologically based appreciation of music is still not clear. The recognition of the drive for gender evolved to assist the survival of the species, but”music didn’t grow strictly for survival purposes,” Blood told Associated Press at the time.
She also believes that since music activates the areas of the brain that make us happy, this indicates it may benefit our physical and psychological wellbeing. This is excellent news for individuals undergoing surgical operations who experience anxiety in anticipation of these procedures. Polish researcher, Zbigniew Kucharski, in the Medical Academy of Warsaw, studied the impact of acoustic treatment for fear management in dental patients.
During the period from October 2001 to May 2002, 38 dental patients aged between 16 and 60 years have been detected. The patients received variants of acoustic treatment, a clinic where music is obtained via headphones and also vibrators. Dr Kucharski found the negative feelings diminished five-fold for individuals who received 30 minutes of acoustic therapy both before and after their dental operation.
For the group that felt and heard music only before the surgery, the fearful feelings decreased by a factor of 1.6 only. For the last group (the controller ), which obtained acoustic treatment only during the surgery, there was no change in the amount of fear felt. A 1992 study identified music listening and relaxation instruction as an effective means to decrease anxiety and pain in women experiencing painful gynecological procedures. And other studies have proved music may reduce other ‘negative’ human feelings such as fear, depression and distress. Sheri Robb and a group of researchers published a report in the Journal of Music Therapy in 1992, outlining their findings which music assisted relaxation processes (music listening, deep breathing and other exercises) effectively reduced anxiety in pediatric surgical patients on a burn unit.
Up to now, according to the same report, researchers can’t be sure why music has a calming influence on a lot of medical patients. One school of thought considers music can decrease stress as it can help patients to relax and lower blood pressure. Another researcher claims music enables the body’s vibrations to synchronize with the rhythms of those around it. As an example, if an anxious individual with a racing pulse listens to slow music, his heart rate will slow down and synchronize with the music’s rhythm. Such outcomes are still something of a puzzle.
The unbelievable ability that music must influence and control emotions and the mind is undeniable, and yet still largely inexplicable. Besides brain activity, the impact of music on hormone levels in the body can also be measured, and there is definite evidence that music can lower levels of cortisol in the body (related to stimulation and anxiety ), and increase levels of melatonin (which could induce sleep). It may also precipitate the release of endorphins, the body’s natural painkiller. But how does music triumph in prompting emotions in us? And why are these emotions often so strong? So far we can measure some of the psychological responses brought on by music, but we can’t yet explain them. But that is OK. I don’t need to understand electricity to profit from light once I switch on a lamp when I come into a room, and I do not need to understand why music can make me feel better mentally. It simply does – our Creator made us that way.