Music is a big part of most people’s lives. It can often provide the soundtrack to whatever we’re doing, whether it’s working up a sweat in the gym, concentrating on some work, or celebrating with friends.
While we often choose the music to match our mood, scientists have been trying to understand whether music can actually have an influence on our moods and emotions. Specifically, researchers have been hoping to find ways to use music to improve the moods of patients.
Just like how we know colours can affect our mood, scientists are fairly confident there is a link, but it’s proving more difficult to understand exactly how it works. For example, research conducted by Durham University and the University of Jyväskylä found that listening to sad music can provide both positive and negative emotions with listeners.
Other research has found that upbeat music can bring more positive emotion to people, but sad music may help people who are going through personal loss.
Some research has suggested that music can have an influence on your heart rate, although claims that it heart “synchronises to the beat” are unlikely to be true. However, some research has suggested that people that sing together synchronise their breathing.
Music is thought to stimulate the fight or flight response in the brain, helping recovery from psychological stress.
In the absence of concrete conclusions from research, it’s probably best to assume that the best approach for controlling moods through music is best done in accordance with the preference of each individual.
The almost endless variety of music means that we have access to songs for every occasion. Music that we listen to while we’re getting ready for a party may be different to the songs we put on when trying to concentrate.
Getting in the Zone
Outside of a clinical environment, using music to control our mood is commonplace. You’ll find offices around the world filled with workers who sit listening to music through their headphones. While university libraries are also packed with students hunched over textbooks and laptops, using music to help their concentration.
Music can have such an effect on our mood, it’s also often used by athletes to help them get focused ahead of a competition. Formula 1 drivers are regularly seen listening to music through headphones before getting into their car for a race. Similarly, poker players often use music to help them focus during games. However, in both cases the choice of music will vary depending on personal preference, and it often is a reflection of their own personality with some choosing fast up beat songs and others preferring more classical, calming tunes.
Friday and Saturday nights usually see hoards of people descend on pubs, bars, and clubs, all looking to have a good time with friends and destress after a busy week of work. Music plays a big part of this, with DJs usually given the job of setting the tone for the establishment.
Some research has suggested that the loud music of these venues encourages customers to drink more, and therefore spend more.
Just listening to music, regardless of the environment can have similar effects. This can be because of the upbeat nature of the song or because it can bring back memories of a happy moment in your life.
Going further, research by Mark Reybrouck, Piotr Podlipniak, and David Welch in Frontiers in Psychology has hypothesised that listening to loud music can activate an “oceanic feeling”, a term used to describe a feeling of being “limitless”. Their research found that music, when played loudly, appeared to activate primitive reactions in the brain.
While scientists clearly have much more work to do, they have demonstrated that our moods can be affected by the music we listen to. There have been several contradictory findings about the type of music that is best for improving the mood, so it perhaps may simply be down to personal preference.
It’s clear from the fact that so many people find that music helps them concentrate, get into the zone or feel better that it is an effective tool for boosting our mood.