How Music Therapy Helps our Brains and the Facts to Back it up.
Image courtesy of Strahman Lab
For centuries, Music Therapy has proven its value -- headlining in research articles across the globe. Although its success is familiar, do we know the exact changes which occur in our bodies during a therapy session?
According to researchers, music and rhythmic vibrations trigger chemical releases within the brain, altering a patient’s state physically and mentally.
In this post, we will take a close look into the chemicals affected by Music Therapy:
As well as music’s influence on Neuroplasticity.
Endorphins are chemicals produced by the nervous system that act as pain and stress relievers. These natural opioids are rumored to decrease the likelihood of depression. A few ways to raise endorphin levels include -- laughing, meditating, exercising, and eating spicy foods.
Our brains use the same pathways to process pain as they do music. Because of this, it is much harder to process pain while focusing on a guitar solo. Listening to music is much like a runner’s high, where endorphins are plentiful.
With the help of a therapist, chronic pain can be minimized within a 30-minute jam session.
Stemming from the adrenal glands, Cortisol is a steroid hormone linked with stress response. It is responsible for controlling blood sugar levels, regulating metabolism, reducing inflammation, and aiding with memory formulation. During pregnancy, Cortisol supports the developing fetus.
Although it is an essential hormone, gently lowering Cortisol levels ease stress and anxiety.
Music is known to induce relaxation. When listening to music, the body’s natural stress hormones decrease, resulting in a decrease in anxiety. Those who are less anxious tend to have better sleeping patterns, which also helps limit stress and allows for a healthier workday.
A recent study measured the amount of cortisol in patients undergoing surgery. One group had music playing in the background, the other did not. On average, the patients who listened to music had lower amounts of cortisol in their bodies.
Dopamine, commonly referred to as the “feel-good” neurotransmitter, is responsible for carrying reward messages between neurons. The brain releases dopamine during pleasurable situations such as eating and exercising. Dopamine is significant to the neural system, as it amplifies learning ability, mood, motivation, attention, and emotional response.
Have you ever gotten chills from a favorite song or a talented singer? Researchers at McGill University in Montreal say this is a sign of dopamine release. Their study measured the relation between music and Dopamine through brain scans. The results showed that dopamine levels were up to nine percent higher in test subjects when they listened to a song they enjoyed.
As mentioned earlier, Dopamine is usually triggered by tangible things. By listening to music, we are able to benefit through an abstract concept-- making high dopamine levels much easier to obtain.
More commonly called an antibody, Immunoglobulin is an immune system protein that fights foreign substances or antigen. Antibodies connect to antigens and destroy them before they can infect us with diseases and toxins.
Music has been found to improve the body’s immune system. Studies show that listening to and playing music directly increases the output of Immunoglobulin A and other antibodies. With more antibodies, it is easier to fight off your body’s foreign invaders.
In the past, the brain was thought to be an irreplaceable organ-- neurons simply aged and then died. In 1948, scientist Jerry Konorski found that this was not so. The brain was able to restructure after experiencing a traumatic event. This became known as neuroplasticity, or the brain’s ability to adapt, and was widely recognized in the 1960s.
The brain’s plasticity is at its highest during childhood due to immaturity. Our brain’s learning ability is based on external experiences that rely heavily on critical periods. Critical periods refer to a timeline in which we must experience certain factors in order to develop at a normal rate. For example, the critical period for language is the first six years of life. If a child is only first exposed after this time, the likelihood of learning declines greatly.
Because of greater neuroplasticity, children are more likely to adapt -- as long as they have experienced critical periods.
Although the brain is fully developed at age 25, there is still room for growth. New neurons are done forming but now, the main focus is strengthening the connections between neurons. By doing this, we are able to strengthen the likelihood of healing after a brain injury.
Plasticity changes occur in brains of all shapes and sizes, all professions, and all ages. A 2003 study compared the plasticity of musicians’ brains to non-musicians’ brains, finding that several areas in the frontal cortex (motor regions, anterior superior parietal areas, and inferior temporal areas) were further developed among musicians.
The University of Bergen in Norway conducted an experiment on the effects of music therapy on patients with mild brain trauma. They explored the functional changes in the orbitofrontal cortex before and after musical training. The results showed significant changes, which led to six out of seven patients improving in social and cognitive behavior and eventually, returning to work.
Common ways Music Therapists will strengthen the brain, courtesy of PositivePsychology
It is important to know the reasons why a form of therapy works, so you are not thrown into an overwhelming situation. By having an understanding of the brain’s structure and music’s influence on it, you will find that self-improvement is easier to grasp. Now that you are well-informed on the science behind Music Therapy, it is time to put the facts into practice.
Edited by Cara Jernigan on January 17, 2021