The Mind Music And Behavior Essay Research

The Mind, Music, And Behavior Essay, Research Paper

The Mind, Music, and Behavior


The main purpose of the paper is to investigate and present the relationship

between the mind, music, and human behavior. For this purpose, research is

presented on previous works and studies that link music with the mind. Based on

this research, music increases neurotransmitter levels. Soft or mellow music has

a tendency to promote tranquillity, while music with tempo sometimes distracts.

Human memories can be cued by music, and music can promote improved learning.

The brain is a two and a quarter pound piece of living organic tissue that

controls the human nervous system. Music is a collection of sound waves that

propagate through the air, and has varying frequencies and tones following a

discernible order. Yet we all recognize the significance of the brain beyond its

physical function. Our minds are the essence of what we are. The brain

enigmatically stores memories, and lets people experience such things as emotion,

sensations, and thoughts. In the same sense, music is more than just a

collection of vibrations. This leads to the question of how does music affect

the mind, and in addition, how does music affect human behavior? The reader

might ask why such a question should be relevant. If more is known about the

psychological and neurophysiological effects of music on the human mind, then

the possibilities of this knowledge are unbounded. Music can be used to treat

social and behavioral problems in people with disabilities. The use of music in

the classroom might enhance or weaken a student’s work characteristics.

Therefore, whether the influence of music is positive or negative, much needs to

be explored about the link between the mind and music.

Physiologically, the brain receives information about sound waves from the ear

through the auditory nerve. This information is then processed by the brain and

analyzed for the juxtaposition of melody and rhythm. The mixture of melody and

rhythm is what we commonly refer to as music. However, our minds interpret this

auditory information as more than just sound signals; somehow, we are able to

differentiate between certain types of music, and develop preferences for these

different types. Yet, what are the ways in which the effects of music manifest


First, there are particular biochemical responses in the human body to music.

Research shows that college students, when listening to music, have more

galvanic skin response peaks, as opposed to when they were not listening to

music. This research also indicates a significant decrease of norepinephrine

levels in students while they listen to “preferred” music. Norepinephrine is a

neurotransmitter that arbitrates chemical communication in the sympathetic

nervous system of the human body. The release of this neurotransmitter, as a

consequence of a function of the brain, results in an increased heart rate and

heightened blood pressure. Therefore, the decrease of norepinephrine in these

college students results in a more “relaxed” state. This could suggest that

favored or pleasant music somehow affects the mind, resulting in the relaxing of

the body. Another research project, undertaken at the Tokyo Institute of

Psychiatry, focuses on the effects of music on the mind using

electroencephalograms (EEG). An electroencephalograph is a medical instrument

that is capable of showing the electrical activity of the brain by measuring

electrical potentials on the scalp. In this experiment, volunteers were exposed

to silence, music, white noise (simulated hiss), and then silence. The result of

this experiment coincides with the previous findings. The volunteers all

reported feeling a calming sensation. However, the researches did not attribute

the lowered tension to reduced neurotransmitter levels. While listening to music,

“many of the subjects reported that they felt pleasantly relaxed or comfortable?

Music may evoke more organized mental activities which result in subjectively

comfortable feelings.” The white noise in the experiment produced an even

greater effect; the volunteers were so relaxed that many felt drowsy and

soporific. This sleepy effect can be explained by the monotonous characteristics

of white noise, in contrast to the variations in tone and melody of normal music.

Furthermore, the researchers found, based on the EEGs, that while listening to

music, the volunteers maintained a higher consciousness than when they were

exposed to silence or white noise. What this experiment shows is that there is a

change in the mental state of people while listening to music; that is, music

has certain psychophysiological effects on humans.

Along with these psychophysiological effects, music has an impact on memory as

well. In one experiment, words were presented to test subjects, while either

classical music, jazz music, or no music played in the background. When the test

subjects were asked to repeat the words a few days later, either the same music

or a different background was present. The researcher noticed a “facilitative

effect of providing the same [musical] context.” Similar research has been done

on CDM. CDM stands for context-dependent memory, which is the principle that

“changing the context or environment in which material was originally learned

causes some of that material to be forgotten.” A group of scientists tested

college undergraduates by asking the students to rate the pleasantness of a

sequence of words, while they listened to a certain type of music. Afterwards,

they were asked to recall these words. The results indicate that the students

were able to recall the sequence more successfully if the same musical piece was

playing. Furthermore, the researchers found that if the music played during the

recall had a different tempo than the original music, then there was a lowered

ability to recall the words. These results are also supported by a supplementary

investigation, where it was shown that a musical piece can facilitate learning

and recall. Perhaps a common manifestation of this phenomenon is when you

remember the jingles in commercials. A test conducted at the University of

Washington demonstrated that brand names were more easily recalled when they

were presented in the form of a musical tune, instead of just spoken. Hence,

this is a consistent example of one relationship between music and memory.

Now that there is a quasi-established link between the human mind and music,

what are some of the ways that music affects human behavior? Fortunately, there

is a considerable amount of research available that indicates how humans

function while being subjected to music. A group of specialists at the

University of Connecticut studied how people communicate with each other while

background music was present. A hundred and four students were paired off and

put into rooms with either different types of background music playing, or no

music playing. In the rooms, these students were asked to perform some problem

solving tasks that required conversation between them. After five minutes, the

subjects were asked to rate their conversations. Of the students who heard

background music, almost all reported “significantly higher satisfaction [with

communication] than those in the no-music condition.” The different types of

music also affected the students. The researchers noted that the students who

listened to fast music had differently paced conversations than those who

listened to slow music. The volunteers who listened to major mode music

performed notably better than those who listened to music of minor mode. Thus,

not only does music affect the way humans converse, but different classes of

music influence people in different ways. A further way in which music has an

impact on our behavior can be witnessed in something as conventional as walking!

A recent investigation into the effects of music on walking distance was

performed at Ursinus College. Volunteers were asked to walk for ninety seconds.

The study showed that, “music significantly influenced distance walked.” The

conclusion reached by the scientists in this instance contradicts the previous

results. Instead of “raising the consciousness” of the mind, the researchers

hypothesized that the music interfered with or distracted the minds of the test

subjects. A related study concurs with this finding. In this case, college

students were asked to complete two hundred and twenty hand-eye coordination

problems while listening to different types of music. It was found that the

rhythm and loudness of the background music interfered with the attention span

of the students. These last two studies seem to refute the findings of the other

research; but in a sense, all the studies correlate a modification of behavior

caused by the presence of music.

The next reasonable step is to ask how this modification of behavior or affect

of music on the mind can be harnessed. One major field that may benefit from

music’s affect on the mind is education. As a matter of fact, it has been shown

that by exposing students in a classroom to music, the musical exposure enhances

class achievement. A research performed at Glassboro State College indicated

that when music was played in a certain psychology class for twenty minutes each

day, the music “stimulated the human alpha and beta brain waves,” resulting in

the attainment of “significantly higher mean scores on examinations than those

who were not exposed to the music.” In addition, music can also be used to aid

in the education of mentally handicapped students. In a school district in

Prescott, Arizona, music was added to the academic environment of special

education students. This resulted in an increase in performance, especially in

the area of mathematics.

Thus, it has been established that there is a link between music and the mind or

human behavior. There still, however, remains a great deal of research that

needs to be done in order for us to comprehend the why and how. This is a

substantial challenge, considering that not much is know about the mysteries of

the brain itself, let alone how it is affected by auditory impulse. It should

also be noted that although the studies presented show certain effects of music,

in each study there are exceptions. Some people show no signs of altered

behavior or any other effects of music. There are even some studies where a

majority of the subjects show no known measurable effects of music. Nonetheless

there is a great potential for this topic of the music and the mind. If we

understand how human beings are effected by music, we can alter how human beings

learn and behave, as simply as by turning on the radio.


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Microsoft Bookshelf 1995. CD-ROM. United States: Columbia University Press, 1995

Microsoft Encarta 1995. CD-ROM. United States: Columbia University Press, 1995


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