What Does Music Do To Us?

Music has a huge impact on our brains, emotions and behaviour. It activates our brain and can even ease physical pain. How can we apply these effects in healthcare? And does music make us smarter?

What Happens In Your Brain When You Listen To Music?

One loves Bach, the other prefers to go wild on house or rap. Everyone has their own preference, but music leaves few people cold. It makes you happy, or on the contrary, makes you feel like dancing. How come these sounds can enchant us so much? 

Music activates the entire brain, says neuropsychologist Erik Scherder. When we listen to music, all kinds of different brain areas become active at the same time. For example, music stimulates the motor areas, which provide that irresistible urge to dance.

Areas of the brain that deal with emotion are also activated by music. It is therefore not surprising that a piece of music can touch you in such a way. And if you listen to music you like, your brain produces dopamine, the same substance that is released when you eat something delicious or when you are in love. That in turn makes for a blissful feeling.

When we make music together, for example by singing together, our brain produces another fine substance: oxytocin. That ‘love hormone’ makes us feel connected to others. Music creates a feeling of togetherness.

Does Music Make You Smarter?

Music lessons are good for brain development, we know from research. In children who learn to play a musical instrument, the connection between the left and right hemispheres is strengthened. This allows the hemispheres of the brain to communicate better with each other during their development, which is important, for example, for coordinating behavior and emotions.

Music Enriches The Brain

Moreover, young people who play a musical instrument have stronger connections between different language areas in the brain. This allows them to better distinguish the subtle sound differences of spoken language from each other. Making music therefore stimulates language skills . 

How Can We Use Music In Healthcare?

Music has a healing effect: it can reduce stress and ease pain. This makes it potentially an effective, safe and inexpensive remedy for all kinds of complaints. The positive effects of music seem to already exist in very young patients. 

Music therapy can also offer a solution for people with, for example, autism, war trauma or an intellectual disability. This form of therapy is sometimes still laughed at, but many people benefit from it. Music can often find a way around the brain, explains Jaschke. “If the connection between brain areas A and B is no longer so good, the music still manages to find a way somewhere.” 

This shortcut in the brain also works for many people with memory problems, such as dementia. Where they sometimes do not or hardly succeed in talking, singing is often still effortless. Singer Maartje de Lint therefore sings together with people with dementia and their loved ones or carers.