Music entertains us, but music also has the power to improve your mood, make you happier, even inspire you to action. Research suggests music has powerful psychological effects that can improve your mental health, well-being, and overall physical health.
Music therapy is an intervention sometimes used to promote emotional health, help patients cope with stress, and boost psychological well-being.
“I’ve been lucky to serve many children and adults in various mental health settings as a music therapist. I’ve heard stories of resilience, strength, and adversity. I’ve worked with individuals who have experienced trauma, depression, grief, addiction, and more,” writes music therapist Molly Warren on nami.org, the National Alliance on Mental Illness website. “These individuals have not come to me in their finest hour, but despite feeling lost or broken, music provided them with the opportunity for expression and for experiencing safety, peace, and comfort.”
Consider some of the major mental benefits of incorporating music into your everyday life. You might find that you feel more motivated, happy, and relaxed as a result. Writing in verywellmind.com, Kendra Cherry sets out 10 ways music can have surprising psychological benefits to your mental and physical health:
1. Music Can Improve Cognitive Performance
Research suggests that background music, or music that is played while the listener is primarily focused on another activity, can improve performance on cognitive tasks in older adults. One study found that playing more upbeat music led to improvements in processing speed, while both upbeat and downbeat music led to benefits in memory.
So the next time you are working on a task, consider turning on a little music in the background if you are looking for a boost in your mental performance. Consider choosing instrumental tracks rather than those with complex lyrics, which might end up being more distracting.
2. Music Can Reduce Stress
It has long been suggested that music can help reduce or manage stress. Consider the trend centered on meditative music created to soothe the mind and induce relaxation. Fortunately, this is one trend supported by research. Listening to music can be an effective way to cope with stress.
In one 2013 study, participants took part in one of three conditions before being exposed to a stressor and then taking a psychosocial stress test. Some participants listened to relaxing music, others listened to the sound of rippling water, and the rest received no auditory stimulation.
The results suggested that listening to music had an impact on the human stress response, particularly the autonomic nervous system. Those who had listened to music tended to recover more quickly following a stressor.2
3. Music Can Help You Eat Less
One of the most surprising psychological benefits of music is that it might be a helpful weight-loss tool. If you are trying to lose weight, listening to mellow music and dimming the lights might help you achieve your goals.
According to one study, people who ate at low-lit restaurants where soft music was played consumed 18% less food than those who ate in other restaurants.3
The researchers suggest that music and lighting help create a more relaxed setting. Since the participants were more relaxed and comfortable, they may have consumed their food more slowly and have been more aware of when they began to feel full.
You might try putting this into practice by playing soft music at home while you eat dinner. By creating a relaxing setting, you may be more likely to eat slowly and, therefore, feel fuller sooner.
4. Music Can Improve Your Memory
Lots of students enjoy listening to music while they study, but is that such a great idea? Some feel like listening to their favorite music as they study improves memory, while others contend that it simply serves as a pleasant distraction.
Research suggests that it may help. But it depends upon a variety of factors, including the type of music, the listener’s enjoyment of that music, and even how musically well-trained the listener may be. In one study, musically naive students learned better when listening to positive music, possibly because these songs elicited more positive emotions without interfering with memory formation.
However, musically trained students tended to perform better on learning tests when they listened to neutral music, possibly because this type of music was less distracting and easier to ignore. If you tend to find yourself distracted by music, you may be better off learning in silence or with neutral tracks playing in the background.
Another study found that participants learning a new language showed improvement in their knowledge and abilities when they practiced singing new words and phrases versus just regular speaking or rhythmic speaking.4
5. Music Can Help Manage Pain
Research has shown that music can be very helpful in the management of pain. One study of fibromyalgia patients found that those who listened to music for just one hour a day experienced a significant reduction in pain compared to those in a control group.5
At the end of the four-week study period, participants who had listened to music each day experienced significant reductions in feelings of pain and depression. Such results suggest that music therapy could be an important tool in the treatment of chronic pain.
A 2015 review of research on the effects of music on pain management found that patients who listened to music before, during, or even after surgery experienced less pain and anxiety than those who did not listen to music.
While listening to music at any point in time was effective, the researchers noted that listening to music pre-surgery resulted in better outcomes. The review looked at data from more than 7,000 patients and found that music listeners also required less medication to manage their pain. There was also a slightly greater, though not statistically significant, improvement in pain management results when patients were allowed to select their own music.
6. Music May Help You Sleep Better
Insomnia is a serious problem that affects people of all age groups. While there are many approaches to treating this problem, research has demonstrated that listening to relaxing classical music can be a safe, effective, and affordable remedy.
In a study looking at college students, participants listened to classical music, an audiobook, or nothing at all at bedtime for three weeks. Researchers assessed sleep quality both before and after the intervention.
The study found that participants who had listened to music had significantly better sleep quality than those who had listened to the audiobook or received no intervention.
7. Music Can Improve Motivation
There is a good reason why you find it easier to exercise while you listen to music. Researchers have found that listening to fast-paced music motivates people to work out harder.
One experiment designed to investigate this effect tasked 12 healthy male students with cycling on a stationary bike at self-paced speeds. On three different trials, the participants biked for 25 minutes at a time while listening to a playlist of six different popular songs of various tempos.
Unknown to the listeners, the researchers made subtle differences to the music and then measured performance. The music was left at a normal speed, increased by 10%, or decreased by 10%.
Speeding up the tracks resulted in increased performance in terms of distance covered, the speed of pedaling, and power exerted. Conversely, slowing down the music’s tempo led to decreases in all of these variables.8
So if you are trying to stick to a workout routine, consider loading up a playlist filled with fast-paced tunes that will help boost your motivation and enjoyment of your exercise regimen.
8. Music Can Improve Mood
Another of the science-backed benefits of music is that it just might make you happier. In one examination of the reasons why people listen to music, researchers discovered that music played an important role in relating arousal and mood. Participants rated music’s ability to help them achieve a better mood and become more self-aware as two of the most important functions of music.
Another study found that intentionally trying to boost moods by listening to positive music could have an impact within two weeks. Participants were instructed to purposefully attempt to improve their mood by listening to positive music each day for two weeks.
Other participants listened to music but were not directed to become happier intentionally. When participants were later asked to describe their own levels of happiness, those who had intentionally tried to improve their moods reported feeling happier after just two weeks.
9. Music May Reduce Symptoms of Depression
Researchers have also found that music therapy can be a safe and effective treatment for a variety of disorders, including depression. One study found that music therapy was a safe, low-risk way to reduce depression and anxiety in patients suffering from neurological conditions such as dementia, stroke, and Parkinson’s disease.
While music can certainly have an impact on mood, the type of music is also important. Classical and meditation music offers the greatest mood-boosting benefits, while heavy metal and techno music are ineffective and even detrimental.
10. Music Can Improve Endurance and Performance
Another important psychological benefit of music lies in its ability to boost performance. While people have a preferred step frequency when walking and running, scientists have discovered that the addition of a strong, rhythmic beat, such as a fast-paced musical track, could inspire people to pick up the pace.
Runners are not only able to run faster while listening to music; they also feel more motivated to stick with it and display greater endurance. The ideal tempo for workout music is somewhere between 125 and 140 beats per minute.
While research has found that synchronizing body movements to music can lead to better performance and increased stamina, the effect tends to be the most pronounced in cases of low to moderate-intensity exercise. In other words, the average person is more likely to reap the rewards of listening to music more than a professional athlete might.
So why does music boost workout performance? Listening to music while working out lowers a person’s perception of exertion. You’re working harder, but it doesn’t seem like you’re putting forth more effort. Because your attention is diverted by the music, you are less likely to notice the obvious signs of exertion such as increased respiration, sweating, and muscle soreness.