Your Taste in Music is Actually Scientific

Find Out How Listening to Different Genres of Music Affects the Brain.

People are really passionate about the music they like. Sometimes, full-on arguments will break out about which band is better, whose album is the best, and why an artist is too “mainstream.”

But did you know, your answers to these arguments can say a lot about who you are? Music has an effect on our brain chemistry, possessing the power to alter our feelings, health, and perceptions. If you’re a die-hard Metallica fan, you’re probably experiencing different effects in your brain than someone who only listens to Beethoven.

In this post, we will discuss what happens in the brain when you listen to:

  • Pop
  • Classical
  • Metal
  • Hip-Hop and Rap

As well as music in general.

Your Brain and Music

Research shows that music is good for our brains.

First and foremost, it triggers the chemical dopamine to release. Dopamine is a “feel-good” neurotransmitter that is associated with pleasure and serves as part of our brain’s reward system. Mood, motivation, attention, movement, learning, and emotional response are all connected to the release of dopamine, making it extremely important.

Along with dopamine, endorphins are released when listening to music. These chemicals act as natural pain and stress-relievers -- actually having a physical impact on your body. Music also helps to maintain cortisol levels, which are also linked to stress.

Speaking of physical impacts, research has shown that music can improve your immune system by stimulating the output of antibodies. This is why methods like music therapy are so successful for patients recovering from surgery.

Check out this post for more on the science of music.

A vibrant, rainbow colored brain wearing headphones.
Listening to music makes tasks more pleasurable because it affects pleasure-seeking areas in the brain. Image courtesy of

These effects are generalized to any form of music that you enjoy, but what’s the science behind specific music tastes?

Let’s check them out!


Those who are fans of pop music are said to have high self-esteem and an outgoing attitude.

This is because pop music is a stimulant that gets your blood pumping and emotions racing. When you listen to pop music, the auditory cortex relays the rhythmic beat to the brain, making you want to sing and dance.

Ariana Grande sings a pop song on a stage lit with blue and purple.
Pop singer Ariana Grande performs an upbeat original. Image courtesy of The New York Times.

In a 2013 study, Dutch neuroscientist Jacob Jolij investigated the question: what makes a song feel good? He surveyed more than 2,000 consumers in the UK about their favorite “feel-good songs.” The results were that the top contenders were around 150 beats per minute and had happy lyrics -- the formula for most of today’s pop songs.


If you’ve ever been a student, you’ve probably tried listening to multiple classical tracks to improve your study habits. Although the Mozart Effect isn’t really responsible for acing that exam, listening to classical music does have its advantages as far as brain chemistry goes.

Classical music has a calming effect over its listeners and has been known to:

  • Lower blood pressure
  • Relieve chronic pain
  • Reduce physical symptoms of depression
  • Reduce inflammation
  • Improve healing

Aside from this, classical music has also been found to play a role in sleep therapy studies, due to its relaxing qualities.

A violinist wearing a flannel shirt plays in an underground subway.
Classical music being used as a crime deterrent in underground transportation. Image courtesy of The Independent.

Psychologically, classical music lowers stress levels and soothes aggression. In a 2005 study, the London Underground projected classical music on public platforms, and they found that physical and verbal abuse between young people in these areas decreased by 33%.

So, if your favorite song is a piano sonata, you probably value relaxation and enjoy your study time.


A lot of people shy away when it comes to heavy metal or hard rock. That’s because so many believe it to be aggressive or evil-minded. But actually, metal music has the same effect on its fans’ brains as pop music.

Professor Bill Thompson of the Australian University studied the emotional effects of music on its listeners and found that hard rock and heavy metal fans are typically nice people who do not feel compelled to commit any acts of violence despite what some parents and grandparents think.

Metal and hard rock can actually help with emotional management and instill a larger sense of empowerment than most music genres.

Three guitar players in black shirts jam to a metal song.
Fans of heavy metal feel joy when listening to dark and intense messages. Image courtesy of Flypaper.

Hip-Hop and Rap

Hip-Hop is definitely known for self-expressive pieces, some of which fueled important societal movements.

Recently, rap and hip-hop music has been used therapeutically for treating mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety. Hip-Hop Therapy has surprised therapists with its success, but how does rap improve our mental state?

The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders conducted a study that scanned the brains of rappers during their freestyles. The scans showed that the areas of the brain concerning motivation, language, emotion, motor function, and sensory processing were at work.

Similar to jazz improvisation, rap is able to hack into the brain’s most creative spaces and alter our emotions.

A hip hop artist dances while others sit in a therapy circle.
Dr. Edgar H. Tyson is the founder of hip-hop therapy. Image courtesy of

“Hip-hop as a genre has not historically had a close relationship with therapy, but this may be changing. As both the medical community and the hip-hop world begin to embrace these promising findings, it’s possible that established barriers can be broken down even further.” -- Mashable.

For more information about Hip-Hop therapy watch Kyle Morrison’s documentary.

No matter what your favorite genre is, music is at work on your brain. Music is an important and personal aspect of ourselves that affects our emotions, actions, and relationships. Now that you know what each genre is capable of, use it to your advantage -- study with Beethoven, dance with Taylor Swift, or express yourself with Tupac. It’s up to you!

Edited by Cara Jernigan on January 24, 2021.

Jessica Fortunato
Jessica Fortunato is a writer who also enjoys photography, music, and hiking.
Learn More >>
Make a Difference

Become a Music Therapist with Incadence

Incadence is transforming the health care industry. By joining our team, you can be a part of this revolution and a leader in health care.

Contact Us