We listen to music when we exercise because it energizes and engages our bodies. We listen to music when we want to relax because it soothes and calms. But what about listening to music when we want to create a real change in our brain function and sharpen our minds?
In a 2011 study, 40 pre-op patients were assigned either to a music group in which they listened to instrumental music, or to a control group in which they listened to a non-musical placebo. Both groups listened to their respective audio stimulus for about two hours before and then during their operations. Researchers found that during the surgical process, the patients in the music group exhibited lower propofol consumption and had lower cortisol levels than the control group.
Cortisol levels matter because neuroscientists have found that chronic stress and cortisol can trigger long-term changes in brain structure and function. In a series of experiments, UC Berkeley associate professor of integrative biology, Daniela Kaufer, and her colleagues, found that chronic stress and elevated levels of cortisol can lead to the overproduction of myelin-producing cells and fewer neurons than normal.
Classical music in particular has also been shown to aid in the development of better concentration levels. Just last year, a study from the University of London’s Institute of Education found that exposing children to a range of classical music led to enhanced listening skills and the development of increased concentration and self-discipline. A similar study from the University of Dayton found that students performed better at spatial and linguistic processing when Mozart was playing in the background.
If you’ve been looking for an easy and pleasant way to stimulate your brain, think of classical music as brain fuel. Tune in to the classical station as you commute to work, or patronize your local symphony to sharpen your mind as you support arts in the community.