In 2013, a research team led by Professor Daniel J. Levitin of McGill University evaluated over 400 studies on the biological impact of music. Their findings indicate that not only is music good for your soul — it’s also good for your body and brain.
“We’ve found compelling evidence that musical interventions can play a health care role in settings ranging from operating rooms to family clinics,” explained Levitin. “But even more importantly, we were able to document the neurochemical mechanisms by which music has an effect in four domains: management of mood, stress, immunity and as an aid to social bonding.”
Here are five positive biological consequences associated with listening to music.
1. Music improves your body’s immune system.
The researchers found compelling evidence that listening to music increases immunoglobulin A, an antibody that plays a critical role in the body’s immune response. Music also increases the body’s level of natural killer (NK) cells, cells that defend the body against germs and bacteria.
2. Music reduces your body’s stress response.
Music has been found to reduce the body’s levels of cortisol, a stress hormone.
3. Good music stimulates the brain’s reward center.
When researchers had participants listen to music that gave them chills as compared to music that evoked a more neutral response, each participant’s brain demonstrated activity in structures associated with reward processing. The reward center is responsible for flooding the brain with dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with happiness.
4. Music increases opioid levels in the brain.
Endogenous opioids are the brain’s own stash of natural painkillers. Research has indicated that listening to music can actually reduce postoperative pain, likely because music triggers the release of these opioids. An older study even found that naloxone — an opioid blocker — can reduce a person’s enjoyment of music.
5. Music facilitates social bonding by releasing oxytocin.
Oxytocin, colloquially known as the “love hormone,” has been associated with rhythmic activities such as singing, dancing and — yes — listening to music. Open-heart surgery patients who listened to music for just 30 minutes had higher levels of serum oxytocin than patients who simply rested in bed.
In many ways, the research on how music affects the brain is just beginning. Every year, new studies are published that highlight new neural mechanisms and biological consequences of music. One thing is clear: Music has a positive influence on a person’s health and happiness.
If you’re feeling stressed out about home or school, take some time to listen to your favorite song. Sing in the shower. Chances are your body will appreciate it.
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About the author
Courtney Lopresti, M.S., is a senior staff writer for the Sovereign Health Group where she uses her scientific background to write online blogs and articles for a general audience. At the University of Pittsburgh, where she earned her Master’s in neuroscience, she used functional neuroimaging to study how the human cerebellum contributes to language processing. In her spare time, she writes fiction, reads Oliver Sacks and spends time with her two cats and bird. Courtney is currently located in Minneapolis. For more information and other inquiries about this article, contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.