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Music for the Mind

What is it about music that we connect to so strongly? It's undebatable that music makes us feel emotions strongly. It can be calming for us to listen to that relaxing Christmas jazz, comforting to listen to a sad song, or energizing to listen to some good old rock and roll. You may have also noticed that certain songs evoke vivid memories. This can be explained by the idea of classical conditioning and stimulus intensity. If you haven't studied psychology, the premise of this is that two sensations which interact repeatedly in combination with each other will trigger the individual to re-experience one in the presence of the other. Usually, this occurs after many repeated pairings, but if a song is paired with an experience that is very intense and meaningful then it is probable that it will create that connection quickly. This is because we are more likely to process these intense experiences into our long-term memory than menial ones. Many couples will talk about "their song" from a first date, and they would be more likely to associate a certain song with a certain individual because of the intense emotions felt at the time. It is also because as humans we don't retain a large amount of what we hear. We are constantly encountering sounds and because of this, it takes attention for us to retain things; and what better to get our attention than by attaching the significance of nervousness and love to the sound?

Music has been around for centuries with the earliest instrument being a primitive version of today's flute. It brings people of all cultures together such as with first nations ceremonies or religious hymns. Within the meditation practices of Indic religions, the word 'Om' is often repeated because its frequency is considered to be the sound of the universe and a frequency which opens up a spiritual connection for the person.

From a scientific perspective, listening to music is like any other stimulus that interacts with the inner workings of our bodies. So, when we listen to music that we like, dopamine is released. This makes us feel good, and since we can now choose what we listen to most of the time, music can be a key remedy in boosting our morale. (1) As well, our liking for a particular sound increases as we listen to it more repeatedly, or for certain negative sounds we become more numb to them as we experience them more (depending on the circumstances). As children we have a tendency to cry at sounds that are unpleasant or run away, but we are intrigued and easily lulled by music that we like. What this means, is that it is a natural phenomenon to feel a connection to music and it can be a good tool for improving moods.

While there are benefits, I can't just say that they are caused by listening to "music", because everyone's preferences regarding music vary incredibly. What one generation or one individual listens to tends to be vastly different from what another generation or individual enjoys. Some of you may recall times when your parents didn't approve of your choice in music or the other way around. We notice the agitation that unpleasant music creates from the remarks "young kids listen to such awful tunes", or "my father's music is boring". Listening to music that we don't enjoy can act in the opposite way as that which we like—not making us feel good, but instead promoting changes in heart rate or increasing anxiety. The effects can be different for different people, but if you're a music connoisseur or the opposite, recognizing this could make you or your shared car rides a whole lot more pleasant!


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