The Benefits of Listening to Music

In 2009, archaeologists excavating a cave in southern Germany uncovered a flute carved from a vulture’s wing bone. The delicate artifact is the oldest known musical instrument on earth — indicating that people have been making music for over 40,000 years.

Although we can’t be sure exactly when human beings began listening to music, scientists do know something about why we do. Listening to music benefits us individually and collectively. Here’s what research tells us about the power of music to improve our physical, mental, and emotional health.

Music connects us

Researchers Trusted Source think one of the most important functions of music is to create a feeling of cohesion or social connectedness.

Evolutionary scientists say human beings may have developed a dependence on music as a communication tool because our ancestors descended from arboreal species — tree-dwellers who called to one another across the canopy.

Music remains a powerful way of uniting people:

  • national anthems connect crowds at sporting events
  • protest songs stir a sense of shared purpose during marches
  • hymns build group identity in houses of worship
  • love songs help prospective partners bond during courtship
  • lullabies enable parents and infants to develop secure attachments

Music’s effects on the mind

It can lead to better learning

Doctors at Johns Hopkins recommend that you listen to music to stimulate your brain. Scientists know that listening to music engages your brain — they can see the active areas light up in MRI scans.

Researchers now know that just the promise of listening to music can make you want to learn more. In one 2019 study, people were more motivated to learn when they expected to listen to a song as their reward.

It can improve memory

Music also has a positive effect on your ability to memorize.

In one study Trusted Source researchers gave people tasks that required them to read and then recall short lists of words. Those who were listening to classical music outperformed those who worked in silence or with white noise.

The same study tracked how fast people could perform simple processing tasks — matching numbers to geometrical shapes — and a similar benefit showed up. Mozart helped people complete the task faster and more accurately.

Mayo Clinic points out that while music doesn’t reverse the memory loss experienced by people with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, music has been found to slow cognitive decline Trusted Source helping people with mild or moderate dementia remember episodes from their lives.

Music memory is one of the brain functions most resistant to dementia. That’s why some caregivers have had success using music to calm dementia patients and build trusting connections with them.

It can help treat mental illness

Music literally changes the brain. Neurological researchers have found that listening to music triggers the release of several neurochemicals that play a role in brain function and mental health:

  • dopamine, a chemical associated with pleasure and “reward” centers
  • stress hormones like cortisol
  • serotonin and other hormones related to immunity
  • oxytocin, a chemical that fosters the ability to connect to others

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