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Music & Emotions: Can Music Really Make You a Happier Person?
How many times have you turned to music to lift you up even more in happy times, or seek comfort in music when melancholy strikes?
Music affects us all. However, only recently have scientists tried to explain and quantify how music affects us on an emotional level. Research into the relationship between melody and the mind shows that listening to and playing music can actually change how our brains and therefore our bodies work.
It seems that people are just beginning to understand the healing power of music for body and soul, even though music therapy is not new. For many years, therapists have been advocating the use of music – both listening and learning – to reduce anxiety and stress, and relieve pain. Music was also recommended as an aid to positive changes in mood and emotional states.
Michael DeBakey, who in 1966 was the first surgeon to successfully implant an artificial heart, says: “Creating and performing music promotes self-expression and provides self-gratification while bringing pleasure to others. A growing number of published reports in medicine have demonstrated that the music has a healing effect on patients.”
Doctors now believe that using music therapy in hospitals and nursing homes not only makes you feel better, but also heals faster. And across the country, medical experts are beginning to apply new discoveries about the effects of music on the brain in treating patients.
In a study, researcher Michael Thaut and his team detailed that stroke, cerebral palsy, and Parkinson’s disease victims who worked to music took larger and more balanced steps than those who were not accompanied by the therapy.
Other researchers have found that the sound of drums can affect how the body functions. Suzanne Hasner, chair of the music therapy department at Berklee College of Music in Boston, quoted in a 2001 USA Today article, says that even people with dementia or head injuries retain their musical abilities.
The article reported the results of an experiment in which researchers at the Mind-Body Wellness Center in Meadville followed 111 cancer patients who drummed for 30 minutes a day. Many patients have been found to have a strengthened immune system and increased levels of anti-cancer cells.
“Deep down in our long-term memory is this rehearsed music,” says Hasner. “It’s processed in the emotional part of the brain, the amygdala. It’s where you remember the music played at your wedding, the music of your first love, the first dance. Those kinds of things can be remembered even in people with progressive disease. This can be a window, a way to reach them…”
The American Music Therapy Organization states that music therapy can enable “emotional intimacy with families and caregivers, relaxation for the whole family, and meaningful time spent together in positive, creative ways.”
Scientists have made progress in discovering 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 determine whether certain brain structures were stimulated by music.
In their study, Blood and Zatorre asked 10 musicians, five men and five women, to choose upsetting music. The subjects then received a PET scan while listening to four types of sound stimuli – the selected music, other music, general noise, or silence. Each sequence was repeated three times in random order.
Blood said that when the subjects heard the music that “triggered” the chills, the PET scans detected activity in parts of the brain that are stimulated by both food and sex.
It is still not clear why humans developed such a biologically based appreciation of music. Food appreciation and sexual desire evolved to help the species survive, but “music didn’t evolve solely for survival,” Blood told The Associated Press at the time.
He also believes that because music activates the parts of the brain that make us happy, it suggests that it can benefit our physical and mental well-being.
This is good news for surgery patients who experience anxiety before such procedures.
Zbigniew Kucharski, a Polish researcher at the Medical Academy in Warsaw, studied the effect of acoustic therapy on the treatment of dental patients’ fears. Between October 2001 and May 2002, 38 dental patients aged 16 to 60 years were observed. Patients received variations of acoustic therapy, an exercise in which music is received through headphones and a vibrator.
Dr. Kucharski discovered that negative feelings were reduced fivefold in patients who received 30 minutes of acoustic therapy both before and after their dental procedures. In the groups that only heard and felt music before surgery, fearful feelings were only reduced by 1.6 times.
In the last group (the control), which only received acoustic therapy during the operation, the degree of fear did not change.
A 1992 study found that listening to music and relaxation training was an effective way to reduce pain and anxiety in women undergoing painful gynecological procedures. And other studies have shown that music can reduce other “negative” human emotions, such as fear, anxiety, and depression.
In 1992, Sheri Robb and a group of researchers published a report in the Journal of Music Therapy, outlining that music-assisted relaxation procedures (listening to music, deep breathing, and other exercises) were effective in reducing anxiety in pediatric burn unit surgical patients.
“Music,” says Esther Mok in the AORN Journal in February 2003, “is an easy-to-administer, non-threatening, non-invasive and inexpensive tool for reducing preoperative anxiety.”
According to the same report, researchers are not yet sure why music has a calming effect on many medical patients. One school of thought believes that music can reduce stress because it can help patients relax and lower blood pressure. According to another researcher, music allows you to synchronize your body’s vibration with the rhythm of those around you. For example, if an anxious patient with a racing heart rate listens to slow music, their heart rate slows down and synchronizes with the rhythm of the music.
Such results are still a mystery. The incredible power of music to affect the emotions and the brain is undeniable and yet largely inexplicable.
In addition to brain activity, the effects of music on the human body’s hormone levels can be quantified, and there is strong evidence that music can reduce cortisol levels in the body (which causes excitement and stress) and increase melatonin levels. which can induce sleep). It can also cause the release of endorphins, the body’s natural pain relievers.
But how can music arouse emotions in us? And why are these emotions often so strong? The simple answer is that no one knows…yet. So far, we can quantify some of the emotional reactions caused by music, but we cannot yet explain them. But that’s okay. I don’t need to understand electricity to benefit from light when I turn on a light when I walk into a room, and I don’t need to understand why music can improve me emotionally. It’s just the way it is – our Creator made us this way.
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