I’m a big fan of music, and use it a lot when working, but I had no idea about how it really affects our brains and bodies. Since music is such a big part of our lives, I thought it would be interesting and useful to have a look at some of the ways we react to it without even realizing.
Of course, music affects many different areas of the brain, as you can see in the image below, so we’re only scratching the surface with this post, but let’s jump in.
1. Happy/sad music affects how we see neutral faces
We can usually pick if a piece of music is particularly happy or sad, but this isn’t just a subjective idea that comes from how it makes us feel. In fact, our brains actually respond differently to happy and sad music.
Even short pieces of happy or sad music can affect us. One study showed that after hearing a short piece of music, participants were more likely to interpret a neutral expression as happy or sad, to match the tone of the music they heard. This also happened with other facial expressions, but was most notable for those that were close to neutral.
2. Ambient noise can improve creativity
We all like to pump up the tunes when we’re powering through our to-do lists, right? But when it comes to creative work, loud music may not be the best option.
It turns out that a moderate noise level is the sweet spot for creativity. Even more than low noise levels, ambient noise apparently gets our creative juices flowing, and doesn’t put us off the way high levels of noise do.
3. Our music choices can predict our personality
Take this one with a grain of salt, because it’s only been tested on young adults (that I know of), but it’s still really interesting.
In a study of couples who spent time getting to know each other, looking at each other’s top ten favorite songs actually provided fairly reliable predictions as to the listener’s personality traits.
Here is also a break-down of how the different genres correspond to our personality, according to a study conducted at Heriot-Watt University:
- Blues fans have high self-esteem, are creative, outgoing, gentle and at ease
- Jazz fans have high self-esteem, are creative, outgoing and at ease
- Classical music fans have high self-esteem, are creative, introvert and at ease
- Rap fans have high self-esteem and are outgoing
- Opera fans have high self-esteem, are creative and gentle
- Country and western fans are hardworking and outgoing
- Reggae fans have high self-esteem, are creative, not hardworking, outgoing, gentle and at ease
- Dance fans are creative and outgoing but not gentle
- Rock/heavy metal fans have low self-esteem, are creative, not hard-working, not outgoing, gentle, and at ease
- Chart pop fans have high self-esteem, are hardworking, outgoing and gentle, but are not creative and not at ease
- Soul fans have high self-esteem, are creative, outgoing, gentle, and at ease
Of course, generalizing based on this study is very hard. However looking at the science of introverts and extroverts, there is some clear overlap.
4. Music training can significantly improve our motor and reasoning skills
We generally assume that learning a musical instrument can be beneficial for kids, but it’s actually useful in more ways than we might expect. One study showed that children who had three years or more musical instrument training performed better than those who didn’t learn an instrument in auditory discrimination abilities and fine motor skills.
They also tested better on vocabulary and nonverbal reasoning skills, which involve understanding and analyzing visual information, such as identifying relationships, similarities and differences between shapes and patterns.
5. One-sided phone calls are more distracting than normal conversations
Another study focused on noise, rather than music, showed that when it comes to being distracted by the conversations of others, phone calls where we can only hear one side of the conversation are the worst offenders.
The unpredictability of a one-sided conversation seems to be the cause of it grabbing our attention more. Hearing both sides of a conversation, on the other hand, gives us more context which makes it easier to tune out the distraction.
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