How Music Moves Our Brain ft. “Mozart Effect, Schmozart Effect”
We as a generation are undoubtedly music aficionados with headphones being our extended body parts aka accomplices in all mundane tasks. We also willingly spend thousands on concert tickets, and our favorite artists’ words are our holy grail. Obviously, music is our go-to, a safe haven of sorts, and whether we are following through on midnight escapades or have a contemplative (read: existentialist) session scheduled, everything feels more intense with background music. Other than the fact that music holds us like the warm embrace of the sun on stormy days, makes us feel heard and relatable, there’s more science as to why it makes us feel how it does.
How music lights up our brain
Neuroscientists have unearthed multiple pieces of evidence that point towards how music illuminates a plethora of areas in the brain, so much so that almost no centers are left virgin or untouched. But, why do upbeat tunes make us swell up with felicity and melancholic blues make us feel validated and reassured, becoming our comforters in heartbreak and/or confusion? The answer lies within you. Just kidding, it lies below.
This euphoric response to music piqued the interest of two neuroscientists at McGill University, Anne Blood and Robert Zatorre. Making university students the subjects for an experiment, they were able to prove via MRI that subjects listening to upbeat music activated brain regions associated with euphoric reward responses. These responses were similar to those experienced after sexual activity, good food, and narcotics and these rewards flooded their brains with dopamine, the feel-good neurochemical, making them feel what they feel.
While these studies pertained to upbeat tunes, there were theories floating around classical music that it not only aroused nostalgia but also boosted intelligence which leads us to the Mozart Effect.
Hold up, this is going to get intense (and more science-y).
To bank or not to bank on Mozart's sonatas to make you smarter
The Mozart Effect was coined post a crazier-than-thou theory actualized with sanguine results in 1993, brought to the world by psychologist Francis Rauscher. 36 students were made to listen to a Mozart Piano Sonata post which their spatial reasoning was brought to test. Jargon checkpoint alert: spatial reasoning or intelligence is related to our problem-solving abilities or permits us to think towards the ironically cliched, out-of-the-box way.
The result of this was obviously in the affirmative or we wouldn’t be talking about it. The findings were how flat-earthers must’ve felt after Galileo because the world was a little too stunned as the mean spatial IQ scores of the subjects were 8 and 9 points higher after listening to the sonatas. But, as fun as getting increased IQ scores after vibing with Mozart would have been, its extraordinary effects started to etiolate post the initial 10-15 minutes. The result of these results? Mass hysteria!
The news of the finding had every parent wishing their child would grow into a Newton or a Hawking if only they were exposed to classical music so creches in the States started playing it nonstop. And we kid you not, the southern state of Georgia even started giving out classic music CDs as freebies to newbies (newborn babies), all thanks to the study.
What caused real trouble was that many were unable to replicate the results which arouse doubts in some and unbridled superstition in others.
This became the breeding ground for further experiments until one in 2006 showcased a Blur Effect as the eight thousand children involved were exposed to either Mozart’s String Quintet or three pop songs including Blur’s “Country House”. This again showed an uptick in the subjects’ ability to predict shapes better with the only twist being that it was after listening to pop songs, specifically Blur. This beseeches us to ask whether it is music relevant to the times that makes our brains light up or just any music that we like? An article in The New York Times attributed this big gap between children’s spatial to music involvement in general.
Without discriminating regarding your choice of music whether it is Taylor Swift, The Smiths or Kendrick Lamar, it seems all you need is just plain ol’ music to get your creative juices flowing. Cognitive arousal is the right term for it and the point of matter is whichever kind of music appeals to you, it gets your mind a little more proactive and focussed at the task at hand. So, no matter what your parents say, kids, don’t let go of those earphones.