Maybe you’ve heard your friends talk about their favorite studying or working music and tried it yourself, only to find that you couldn’t remember a single thing you read while you were listening. Or, maybe you’re on the opposite side of that coin, and you remember things best when you have a nice beat to think to. Or perhaps, like many of us, you fall somewhere between these two.
No matter where you fall on the spectrum, you may wonder whether listening to music brings benefits into your daily life — well, more than the happiness you feel when listening to it.
Truthfully, because humans are so individualistic, the pros and cons of listening to music can vary dramatically from person to person. This said, research suggests that listening to music may actually be more beneficial than most people think.
Today we’ll dive into some of the ways that music can help or hurt, as well as how different types of music may play a role in different areas of our lives.
How Does Music Affect Us?
Before getting started with the pros and cons of listening to music, let’s take a moment to address how music actually affects us on a psychological level.
Over the years, there have been numerous studies about music‘s impact on brain health — especially as we age. Many find that people who listen to music tend to boast higher scores for mental well-being as well as general happiness. But why might this be? What exactly does music do that makes it such a promising way to help keep our minds keen as we go through life?
Simple. Music activates our brain. Not only does it engage the auditory cortex (where we process sounds), but it also activates the emotional processing and regions as well as the brain’s motor system too. Because music is able to activate so much of our brain at once, it can help us keep those valuable brain pathways and networks from degrading — which happens when we don’t use them enough.
The Good and the Bad
Now without further ado, let’s dive into some of the good and bad effects music may have on us.
Benefits of Listening to Music
There are a great variety of benefits that listening to music can bring to our lives. Some of the most impactful boons of music are as follows.
Listening to music may:
- boost mood by stimulating the release of dopamine in the brain.
- promote better emotional regulation by picking the music that best resonates with our current (or desired) emotional state.
- increase cognitive performance by
- aiding concentration or cultivating an increased focus on a given task,
- improving memory, and
- improving brain stimulation by utilizing brain pathways and networks.
- help reduce stress levels by reducing the body’s cortisol levels.
- improve management of pain, fatigue, and symptoms of chronic conditions such as depression.
- improve motivation, endurance, and performance in your exercise goals and routines.
- improve your overall sleep quality by helping your mind and body to relax before bed.
Drawbacks of Listening to Music
While music can undoubtedly be an excellent tool for boosting your spirits, reducing stress, and motivating you to get the most out of your day, it may not be the right solution in all situations.
Most commonly, the situations where music is less helpful are those where you need to think and process information. Due to the nature of music and how we listen to it, when trying to perform a more thought-heavy task or set of tasks, listening to music may cause more harm than good.
For example, music may:
- distract you from your task — such as studying or writing a paper.
- lessen your working memory capacity, which makes it harder to learn a concept, solve a problem, or remember specific items — such as a sequence of events or the items on your grocery list.
- lower your reading comprehension, making it harder to grasp the concepts or ideas you are trying to understand.
Keeping the benefits and drawbacks mentioned earlier in mind, the exact way that music affects your ability to concentrate and absorb information will ultimately depend on you.
Some people find it easier to concentrate when listening to music, while others find the combination of music and performing concentration-heavy tasks to be almost impossible. Realistically, the only way for you to know what works best for you is to experiment and compare your time with music to your time without music.
What About the Type of Music?
As you’ve probably already guessed: yes, the type of music you are listening to will impact how helpful (or unhelpful) listening to music is for you.
For example, if you are trying to study for an exam or finish a report for your work, you may get the most benefit from listening to something neutral and instrumental. While your favorite song may be great to listen to, more often than not, any music that triggers strong emotional responses or is very unpredictable will end up distracting you from your task. For this reason, it is generally best to opt for slower, quieter tracks with no lyrics (and preferably no commercials) when you are trying to concentrate.
On the other hand, let’s say you’re looking for something to listen to while doing an activity — like exercising or performing a more physically-focused hobby. Rather than opting for a quieter, slower instrumental track, you will likely want to pick something that energizes and motivates you. For a lot of people, this means something with a faster tempo, good beat, catchy lyrics, and stronger rhythm — but again, everyone’s best choice will depend on their personal preferences in music.
The Key Takeaway
So, what’s the big picture about music? The bottom line is music can be either incredibly advantageous and disadvantageous depending on the situation (and the individual).
Listening to music (especially while performing thought-intensive tasks) may not be for everyone. Some people prefer quiet, while others find silence to be distracting — this is natural, and there is no “normal” when it comes to these preferences.
This said, there are a few benefits of music that are typically true for most people — such as its ability to improve mood, promote emotional regulation, and reduce stress. However, while music can help you better manage these things, it is not a solve-all solution. If you are currently using music to help improve your mood or help manage stress or symptoms of a chronic illness but are still having trouble doing so, you may want to consider seeking therapy.
Meeting with a therapist can help you not only learn other strategies for coping with your stressors and improve your emotional regulation abilities, but it can also help you discover and address the underlying causes of the stress in your life. So, if you are looking for additional guidance, please do not hesitate to reach out to us today at Love Heal Grow to meet with one of our therapists.