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How Music Affects the Brain

Updated on September 26, 2014

We all know that music molds our brains, but few have embraced the details.

Music has a few surprising effects on the brain. It also shapes our moods and personalities. Listening to it has profound implications for our creative and relationship success.

Bach Minuet in G Major

A. Music Affects the Brain in Different Ways

Music affects our focus, creativity and physical well-being in many profound ways.

1. Music affects our perceptions.

Our favorite tunes guide the way we think. One study showed that people are likely to interpret neutral expressions based on the music they listen to.

When asked to interpret a neutral expression, most people interpreted them as sad when listening to sad music and angry when they heard raucous, angry music.

The study also showed that we sometimes understand, but do not necessarily empathize, with the emotions of a piece of music. We listen with perceived, but not necessarily felt, emotions.

2. Music of a moderate noise level improves creativity.

Depending on our preferences, we may turn to soft classical music that we think helps us focus or hard, thumping rock to motivate us as we work our way through our to do lists.

As it turns out, moderately loud music, such as jazz or pop, is the best music to stimulate creativity. It increases our brain's ability to process difficult information, making this possible.

3. Music distracts us when we are driving.

It is now confirmed. Our favorite music distracts us when we are driving.

A study shows that drivers who listened to their favorite music drove more aggressively.

We may not want to turn on the radio while we drive after all.

4. Music improves our motor and reasoning skills.

Studies also show that music has benefits for our motor skills and powers of reasoning.

A study showed that children who learned a musical instrument had better fine motor skills. They also had better auditory discrimination.

5. Classical music improves visual attention.

A small study showed that classical music makes us pay more attention to what we see.

This little study compared the impact of classical music and silence on visual attention. Silence received a poor score.

6. Music helps us exercise.

Listening to music helps us through our exercise routines. This is why people plug into their IPods while they jog.

Music grabs our attention and overrides signals of fatigue.


No Woman No Cry

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B. How Different Music Affects Our Moods

In addition, music affects our moods in various ways.

1. How Music Generally Affects Moods

We listen to music for different reasons. Studies show that people prefer listening to sad music when they suffer personal or interpersonal losses, such as someone's passing or a romantic breakup.

We prefer angry music, of course, when we meet personal transgressions such as an unfair situation at work.

2. How Different Music Affects Our Moods

Different types of music affects our moods as well.

In one study, six people of different ages listened to three similar songs for each different genre of music. They were to list their feelings about the music on a scale of 0-5.

a. Classical Music

After they listened to the classical tracks, the participants reported feeling calm and even claimed improvements in their memories.

b. Rap Music

The fast-paced nature of rap music, with its heavy tempo, has a somewhat startling effect on our mood.

It causes bran symmetry to change, leading to changes in behavior seen as negative. The overpowering feeling is often misconstrued as confidence.

Teens, of course, empathized with this feeling. Adults, however, tended to find it irritating.

c. Alternative Music

Alternative music has a happy, calming effect. Though data varied with different types of alternative music, all six people agreed that it gave them surreal feelings of calm.


Jazz, too, gives feelings of calm. All six participants of this study agreed that the music produces this effect.

e. Rock Music

Rock gives people the same feeling as rap. It also raises tension, with faster, thumping beats, and causes changes to the symmetry of the brain.

The study found that those who listened to rock have a higher tendency for behavioral problems.

f Country Music

Some may think of country music as having a high degree of calm, but it the instruments and nasal vocals cause a high degree of irritation.

Half the participants found it annoying.


Gershwin Suumertime

C. How Music Affects Our Personalities

Apart from mood, our music choices have a bearing on our personalities. In one study conducted of couples getting to know each other, the top ten tracks they chose to listen to were reliable indicators of their personality traits.

Do remember that your personality depends on a host of factors!

1. Blues

The study found that blues listeners are easy-going, creative and gentle. They are also extroverted.

2. Jazz

Jazz fans are really self-confident. They are also outgoing and have relaxed personalities.

3. Classical

Classical music fans, conversely, prefer quiet activities. However, they have a good sense of self and are creative.

4. Rap

Rap fans of Kanye West and his counterparts have a self-confident aura. They are easy-going and creative.

5. Opera

The elegant nature of opera, as sung by Jose Carreras, breeds gentleness. Opera fans are delightfully gentle and creative.

6. Country and western fans are hardworking and outgoing

Country conjures images of hardworking farmers who make guests feel at home. Country music fans, indeed, are hardworking and outgoing.

7. Reggae

Reggae music by well-known greats like Bob Marley makes listeners want to kick back and relax. Reggae fans are laid back, outgoing people who esteem themselves highly. They are also gentle and at ease.

8. Dance

We associate dance with creativity and grace. Dance music fans are creative and outgoing, but the restless nature of dance takes away their gentleness.

9. Indie

Indie fans are laid back. They have low self-esteem, are creative, and a little rough.

10. Bollywood

Bollywood fans are creative and outgoing folks who enjoy expressing themselves.

11. Rock/Heavy Metal Fans

Rock fans are creative, but are a little reserved. They are a little laid back and edgy.

12. Pop

Fans of chart pop are diligent and outgoing, but somewhat reserved and prefer the rational over creativity.

13. Soul

Fans of soul music by the likes of Aretha Franklin and more recently, Adele esteem themselves highly. They are highly creative, relaxed people.


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    • torrilynn profile image


      5 years ago

      I feel that music affects our moods greatly. Especially, when you are feeling sad and you listen to music that goes along with your gloomy mood. thanks for this hub. very informative and thorough. Best of wishes.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 

      6 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      I believe that this piece was long overdue. Nice work!

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      6 years ago from Singapore

      Music is cool, isn't it, Denise!

    • denise.w.anderson profile image

      Denise W Anderson 

      6 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

      Music is a big part of my life. I had a hard time answering the poll question because I listening to different types of music at different times of day and when I am in different moods. I don't listen to just one kind, but many kinds. I listen to Christian rock when I am exercising, 70's Rock and Roll when driving, jazz in the evenings, and classics on weekends. I know that it has a great deal of affect on me as a person. When our children were young and getting rowdy, we could put on some soothing music and the entire household would be more calm.

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      6 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks, Rasma.

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      6 years ago from Singapore

      Yes, Rock would be so hard to listen to, rdsparrowriter!

    • Gypsy Rose Lee profile image

      Gypsy Rose Lee 

      6 years ago from Daytona Beach, Florida

      Voted up and interesting. Wonderful and informative and very musical. Enjoyed and passing this on.

    • rdsparrowriter profile image

      Rochelle Ann De Zoysa 

      6 years ago from Moratuwa, Sri Lanka

      Interesting :) I love to listen to music while I write and even when I work :) I like any kind of music except Rock/heavy metal :)

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      6 years ago from Singapore

      Yes, you are so right, Javed. Music from natural sources is still music!

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      6 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks, Devika.

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      6 years ago from Singapore

      I used to do the same as a teacher, SheGetsCreative. Unfortunately, classes rotated, so I didn't get the opportunity to do this for every class. Thanks for sharing!

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      6 years ago from Singapore

      It does help, Bill!

    • m abdullah javed profile image

      muhammad abdullah javed 

      6 years ago

      Informative hub Michelle. Thanks for sharing. Music has its own affects on our mood and personalities, you have rightly mentioned some here, however there are no specific evidences to prove what we feel or observe.

      I think music to some extent exert impacts on our personalities, we find music in nature, birds, insects,in some animals and trees, through breeze etc. all act as a musical instrument. One can enjoy music from these sources in the morning and evening in the jungle and field.

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 

      6 years ago from Central Florida

      This is interesting, Michelle, especially the personality types associated with the different genres. I have music on all the time. I keep it pretty low while I'm working and crank it when I'm cleaning or driving. I like to listen to Yanni. His music motivates me or relaxes me - whichever I need at the time.

      I can't stand rap or heavy metal. I do like soft rock and Southern rock. I have no idea what Bollywood is. I never got into opera because I can't understand what they're saying. When I used to play piano, it was classical. And reggae makes me want to dance outside while sipping a pina colada!

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 

      6 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      I love listening to music while writing and your hub has all the good points.

    • manatita44 profile image


      6 years ago from london

      Nice article on a rather powerful art. However, I have never thought of it this way. I'm always singing and listen much. Somehow I feel that it goes straight to my heart and Soul. Of course there are mental music. Perhaps I don't play them too often, or perhaps I'm like my name suggests: Manatita - Beyond the Mind: In The Heart of Our Lord Beloved Supreme. My Teacher gave it to me and told me about it in 1989. Peace.

    • SheGetsCreative profile image

      Angela F 

      6 years ago from Seattle, WA

      Thumbs up! I strongly believe music affects our brain. I choose different genres for different activities and used to know a math teacher that (wisely) had classical music playing as kids came in to every class she taught so they could be more focused as they worked.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      6 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Oddly, I can't write with music on, but if I play music before I write, I find inspiration. I think that ties in with what you are saying. :)

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      6 years ago from Singapore

      How does music affect our brains,, our moods and our personalities?


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