The “Mozart Effect” broadly suggests that listening to Mozart, or any form of classical piano music, makes you smarter. The theory has been disproved—it turns out you can’t become generally smarter by listening to classic tunes hammered out on Steinway pianos. But research shows that music has other notable, physical effects on the brain and the body. Let’s take a look at some of those effects.
1. Music boosts the immune system.
Neuroscientists have discovered that music creates a significantly increased recovery rate in everything from heart disease and lung problems to the common cold.
One way that music boosts the immune system is by suppressing cortisol levels. Cortisol is a hormone released when your body is under stress. Listening to music you enjoy for a can reduce cortisol levels, and in turn, increase the antibody immunoglobin A, which helps your body fight off illness (read more about that here.)
The key here is reducing cortisol. Turns out, many enjoyable activities can reduce the stress hormone, including massages, laughing, dancing, and of course, listening to music you like.
The next time you have a cold, playing a Steinway Model O may be just as beneficial as taking some vitamin C.
2. Music helps to return forgotten memories.
Memory loss is a common condition brought on by a wide range of things including brain damage, trauma, and Alzheimer’s. Researchers and musical therapists have found that music can potentially unearth forgotten memories associated with that music, so if your first dance with a loved one was accompanied by a classical piece, hearing that piece played on a Steinway Model M could dust off the cobwebs and help you remember the details of that dance.
The key is the hippocampus, which, among other things, is responsible for turning short-term memory into long-term memory and storing those memories. Listening to music you’re familiar with engages the hippocampus, which returns the memories and feelings you associate with that song. Even if the memories don’t come flooding back, the feelings and emotions will.
3. Music can treat Parkinson’s.
Music gets you moving—duh—but you may not realize just how ingrained that movement is. The portions of the brain that connect movement and rhythm are so deeply embedded in your system then you’re not even conscious of your head-bobbing or toe-tapping as you listen to your favorite tunes.
Those with Parkinson’s or other disorders that cause bradykinesia, slowness in the execution of movement, can use music to essentially trick their bodies into moving. The brain interprets what’s in your headphones as an organized movement, sending the signal down to your legs to start moving. Musical therapists are able to use many different types of music in this treatment.
The next time you put on your headphones, imagine all the great things that are taking place in your brain and body. It’ll make your tunes sound that much better.