Have you ever wondered why people listen to music, classical music specifically, while studying? Ever wonder what effects it might have on your brain?
For some reason, I always feel like I’m in a different state of mind when listening to classical music; and I wondered whether it was just me, or whether the music actually had some sort of effect on everyone’s brains. There are those that believe that it makes children smarter and there are those who think that there is no basis for that argument. Out of curiosity, I decided I would do a little research myself. What I found was really interesting…
Right off the bat I found that the whole idea of classical music making your children smarter is for the most part unsubstantiated. However, there is a body of research that helps to show that classical music seems to prime our brains for certain kinds of thinking (so apparently I’m not as crazy as I thought). These studies have shown that after listening to classical music, adults can often do certain spatial tasks more quickly, such as putting together a jigsaw puzzle. The pathways in our brain that are used when listening to classical music are similar to the pathways we use for spatial reasoning; so when we listen to classical music, the spatial pathways are “turned on” and ready to be used. So, you may be asking yourself, will classical music make you inherently smarter?
Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. The positive effects of classical music only last a short period of time. It’s been proven time and time again that you get the most cognitive benefits from learning to play classical music; still, even listening to classical music can have some benefits on the brain. This is known as “The Mozart Effect”.
As you now know, scientists are already aware that listening to music results in various neuronal and physiological changes; but did you ever think about how it affects us on a molecular level? That had largely remained a mystery until recently. To find out more about it, researchers performed a genome-wide transcriptional profiling from the peripheral blood of participants after they listened to classical music — and again without music exposure. Essentially, that’s just an overly complicated way of saying that they were checking to see how music alters the brain structure and function on a genetic and molecular level. The results showed listening to classical music enhanced activity of genes involved in dopamine secretion (the feel good hormone), transport synaptic function, and learning and memory. But wait there’s more!
Listening to classical music “down-regulated” genes that can be associated with neurodegenerative diseases, which goes to show that music helps keep the brain healthy.
Of course none of this is to say that listening to other kinds of music has no benefit. In fact, most types of music can offer the brain some kind of benefit. Prior research has shown that hip-hop lyrics actually offer individuals suffering from cognitive illnesses a fresh way of thinking. Music therapy is in fact an area of great scientific interest; and by learning more about how music intrinsically affects the brain, we could be able to better help those with degenerative diseases.
Overall, classical music won’t transform you into the next Einstein (though he did play the violin), but that doesn’t mean that it’s not of great value. Honestly, next time you’re doing a puzzle and can’t figure it out, just play some classical music—and BAM problem instantly solved. Because that’s clearly how things work…