Dr. Lisa Brown is not a musician. She’s a neurologist. She shares her thoughts on her work on the influence of music on the human body and mind. The soothing effect of music on the body is well documented already.
Music, for many ages, has also been likened to having a similar effect as a drug on the human body. It is known to sedate and generally improve the listener’s mood.
Although external factors like noise may affect the effectiveness of music to the hearer, the sound hardly passes through the ears without changing the mood.
But can music be addictive in the way that drug addiction is bad? Can a person ever get to the point of addiction where there could be a general imbalance without music?
Lisa has carried out several studies on how music works on the mind and body. Her findings are interesting, but much work is still going on how to conclusively know how music affects the brain. Also, how does music compare with drugs in terms of competence?
We also sought to know from Dr. Brown if the type of music matters. Some people love slow music, while others prefer the hard-core, noisy stuff. Do these have the same effect on the listeners?
Let’s dig in.
Q: Thank you for talking to us, Dr. Lisa Brown. As a neurologist, can you tell us how important music is?
A: Thank you, Jay. Over the years, I’ve been fascinated by how the brain responds to music, and I believe it’s beautiful. Apart from laughter and responding to a good joke or a hearty moment, the brain’s reaction to music produces what we call chills.
Q: Chills, do you mean that in layman terms, or is that something deeper?
A: No, it’s not deeper; it’s the same chills we feel; when we experience pleasure, we are at a higher plane of relaxation and comfort. You see, the brain is very fantastic. And it reacts to every mood. With music, the brain releases the same substances as when you are getting a pleasant reward, being appreciated, or taking a shower after a tiring day.
So, music can be excellent therapy, and although the studies are ongoing, few things have a more significant impact on the body than good music.
Q: From a neurologist’s perspective, how does music influence our body and mind?
A: A lot of in-depth research has revealed that your physical response is involuntary when you listen to music. That means the brain controls it. You don’t control how you start nodding your head and tapping your feet. You see, all these are outward responses to what is happening in the brain.
Scientists have studied this several times. We ask a group of people to listen to any random music we have selected. That means it’s a song that the listener may not be familiar with.
Of course, you know about the chills, the feeling you get when you listen to a part of the song that you resonate with, that feeling of being in tune and feeling transcendent out of your present environment. The listeners are required to press a button whenever they experience that chill.
Now, we monitor their physical response throughout the music, especially when they press the button, so we make comparisons. We often discover that when listeners are soothed by music, their heartbeat increases, their temperature changes, and their body is more relaxed.
Moreover, positron emission tomography scans and functional magnetic resonance imaging tests reveal an increased dopamine release by the brain during the entire session. Furthermore, the dopamine activity was heightened at the point when the listeners pressed the button; that is, they experienced chills.
Q: Can you explain the relevance of dopamine to the body and its relation to music?
A: That is a critical question. You see, every time you feel good, active, alive, and roaring to go, it is because the brain has released a particular chemical called dopamine.
Although it doesn’t work in isolation, as other chemicals like serotonin, oxytocin, and endorphins play essential roles in keeping us happy, dopamine especially has extra benefits. It is known to improve cognitive abilities.
When we have a good dose of dopamine, we are motivated, and our mind is stabilized. You naturally have a good day when your dopamine level is fine. If not, you lack motivation and feel heavy, which means your day won’t be productive.
In extreme cases, chronic lack of dopamine or severe shortages leads to depression. That’s what is referred to as dopamine deficiency.
Interestingly, music is known as one of the dopamine boosters in the body. Studies have shown that music can boost dopamine levels by up to 10%. Although other factors like exercise, meditation, rest, a good sleep, spending time outdoors, and a balanced diet also boost dopamine, good music does wonders.
So music can improve the body’s mood by increasing the dopamine level.
Q: How does it compare to the influence of a drug?
A: The influence of music can be likened to that of a drug because the similarities are numerous. One of the reasons people get addicted to certain drugs is its results on the brain.
Medications and music are known to both produce pleasure in the brain. Music produces the same effect as drugs in the brain, especially on the opioid system.
Scientists have found that dopamine, the primary chemical that makes the body feel good, is released when listening to music you love. When you use drugs that improve your mood, dopamine is released. When you listen to good music and feel the chills, dopamine is also released. So there are so many similarities between music and drugs.
Music produces a stress-relieving effect on the brain, especially for those who may be depressed. Drugs are also known to relieve stress. Sometimes, you sing along to music you love.
Endorphins, which are released by drugs to relieve tension and improve the general well-being of the users, are also released when you sing, especially to songs you like.
Drugs are also used to relieve pain, just as music is known to relieve pain.
Q: So, can music be considered a drug?
A: Although music can have the same effect on the brain like a drug, we can’t reasonably call Music a drug for many reasons. One, a drug has to be ingested for it to be a drug. Music can’t be ingested, and you can’t also overdose on it. Also, people risk overdosing on a drug or getting addicted.
Can you get addicted to music? That’s subjective. Because although you may find yourself hooked to music, it doesn’t have any adverse effects. When you overuse drugs, it harms the body. But over-reliance on drugs is known to be dangerous. So, while music is known to improve the listener’s mood, it may not be considered a drug.
When people listen to music, what they feel has been studied by several researchers, and the science is precise. People react to music the same way they respond to drugs. The temperature and blood rate change and the body reacts positively.
At a particular time, research allowed scientists to block the release of opium in the brain. They then monitored how the body reacts to music afterward. It was observed that the body showed a less positive reaction to music when the part of the brain that releases dopamine is suppressed.
Q: Does the type of music matter?
A: What we know is that different humans react differently to varying types of music. When we ask random people to listen to music to monitor the thrills, we discover that people respond to the songs differently. Some people love their music slow, and others love it fast. Depending on your preferences, music affects people differently.
But it is often observed that people react faster to slow music when they are moody and need to be lifted. Music can easily lift the listener’s mood, but people respond to music differently, just the way people love colors differently.
I believe it is a thing of variety and natural differences. Hardly do people react in an exact way to a song, and hardly do people love the same set of songs.
Age may also play a role in how the body reacts to songs. The young ones tend to love faster songs that appeal to their yearnings and aspirations. Older people prefer songs that make them nostalgic and remind them of the past.
Sometimes, people react to the melodious tunes of songs and not necessarily the words. So it all depends on many factors, but certainly, the kind of song matters a great deal.
Q: Some songs are known to glorify violence, and many people love them. Are they also helpful?
A: As crazy as it may sound, the brain does not necessarily sift out the words in the song. There is a category of people who are attracted to such lyrics. Most times, their background and environment make it difficult for them to reason otherwise.
To such people, such songs would produce the same effect as country music would to some other people. So, it boils down to personality. Songs are not a “one size fits all” thing. Many people prefer different kinds of songs, and if songs like rap with such extreme themes are what they love, then nothing else may work.
However, with the change in lifestyles, people’s tastes may also change, and the brain may start reacting differently to songs they were used to.
Q: Do you think music can be a form of therapy?
A: Music is known to have a very positive effect on the mind and body, but music can’t be said to be used to treat an infirmity because it is not a drug in the real sense. However, songs have been known to help those recovering from illnesses or undergoing a form of treatment.
Music can help speed up the healing process for those traumatized, and it is known to help in meditation. Several meditation procedures that use mantras rely on the power of the sounds to relieve stress from the practitioner, so music can be used to improve the healing process for those who have certain illnesses.
Q: Thank you so much, Dr. Brown
A: It’s an honor, thank you.