The science behind why music makes us feel good

Ever wondered why music give you a buzz? Martha Roberts delves into the science and psychology behind why music makes us feel so good...

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Whether you’re performing it or listening to it, music make us feel uplifted, contented and can even have benefits for our health, too. But why does music make us feel so good? We delve into the science and psychology behind music to discover why you get a buzz when your favorite tune comes on…

Why music makes you feel good: the science

It’s a well-known fact that music can lift the spirits. But science has now shown it has a physical effect on our bodies, too. As we listen, music works on the autonomic nervous system. This is responsible for controlling blood pressure and heartbeat. It also works on the limbic system, which is responsible for feelings and emotions.

A review of 23 studies by Bradt & Dileo (in 2009) involving almost 1,500 people found music helped to reduce blood pressure, heart rate and anxiety in heart disease patients.

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The wellbeing benefits of music

Music can have a range of benefits for psychological wellbeing, too. Research from the University of Missouri published in The Journal Of Positive Psychology found for the first time, that upbeat music can have a very positive effect on our wellbeing.

‘People were successful at raising their positive mood as long as the music they listened to was happy and upbeat,’ said Dr Yuna Ferguson, the lead author.

And participating in music-making can also increase our happiness, and help us to get on better with others. A 2013 Finnish study of 1,000 pupils who took singing classes found they reported higher satisfaction at school in almost every area.

Lead researcher Päivi-Sisko Eerola said ‘synchronising’ with each other may ‘even make people like each other more than before’.

How to reap the health and wellbeing benefits of music:

  • Listen to music every day. Just 25 minutes every day for at least 10 days will help to prevent back pain. It can also make you sleep better. Keep up the habit beyond 10 days if you can.
  • Play music while working out. Experts from Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia, USA, say listening to music during exercise can help to release endorphins to increase your endurance. It can also boost your mood and distract you from the discomfort you may feel during your exercise session.
  • Pick music to suit the situation. Any type of classical music, such as pieces by Mozart or Beethoven, can help relieve muscle pain. For an effective, beneficial workout, researchers say the best music is high energy, high tempo music. Try hip hop or dance music.
  • Join a choir. Experts found that if we actively engage with the music – feeling it rather than letting it simply be in the background – it can give us extra emotional oomph and make us feel happier (Ferguson and Sheldon, 2013).
  • Listen to music while working or studying. If you’re trying hard to crack that difficult report or you’re struggling with the final touches of a dissertation, music could help get your brain in gear. A study of children ages eight to 11 found that those who took extra–curricular music classes, developed higher verbal IQ, and visual abilities. This was in comparison to those with no musical training (Forgeard et al., 2008).

MARTHA ROBERTS is an award-winning UK health writer and mental health blogger at mentalhealthwise.com

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