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What is Music Psychology?

Music Psychology explores how music affects our minds and emotions, intertwining neuroscience, cognitive behavior, and cultural studies. It's a fascinating journey into why certain melodies tug at our heartstrings or how rhythms can energize us. This field reveals the profound impact music has on human experience. Curious about how your favorite tunes influence you? Let's delve deeper into the psychology of music together.
Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

Music psychology is regarded both as a branch of musicology and a form of complementary psychology studies. It examines the effect of music on people, on both an individual and societal level. Now formally studied at several universities, music psychology has become a fascinating branch of science, still relatively new in its testing and impact.

Possibly without exception, human culture involves music. Whether through chanting, percussion, vocal or created instruments, music is one of the few near-universal constants of society. In most industrialized nations, music is an everyday experience: in commercial jingles or in elevators, playing on radios and iPods, civilization is almost entirely surrounded by music. Clearly, on a cultural level, music is important to humans. The study of music psychology attempts to determine what mental and physical effects music has on humans, and if certain psychological conditions can be altered or created by the application of some forms of music.

Music psychology studies the effect of music on humans.
Music psychology studies the effect of music on humans.

Music psychology is a broad field, combining elements of traditional music science with applied psychology studies, cultural anthropology, and the study of cognition, among other disciplines. Some of the areas currently studied involve the effects of music rituals such as concerts, psychological reasons for musical preferences, and the study of musical performance. Each of these areas can tell researchers a bit about the effects of music on people, and give clues into the importance of music to the brain.

The human brain is able react to tonality, rhythmic patters and learned musical practices.
The human brain is able react to tonality, rhythmic patters and learned musical practices.

Some people actively use music for its stimulating or relaxing effects. Drivers who suffer from anxiety are sometimes advised to keep quiet music on in their vehicles as a means of maintaining calm. Sporting events often use specific songs as a means of exciting the crowd and creating an atmosphere of anticipation. Music psychology attempts to understand why specific types of music create these effects, and how it can be harnessed to bring specific reactions from individuals.

Cultural anthropology examines how music and other performing arts impacts the psychology of a society.
Cultural anthropology examines how music and other performing arts impacts the psychology of a society.

Several prominent universities now offer specialization in the field of music psychology. Ohio State University in the United States and the Royal College of Music in London, England are both pioneers in the field of music psychology education. Moreover, prominent societies that employ both musicologists and psychologists have sprung up all over the world, studying the effects of regional music on local cultures.

Different kinds of music can influence a person's mood.
Different kinds of music can influence a person's mood.

Although it is a relatively new field, music psychology studies one of the oldest known cultural practices. The idea that the human brain reacts specifically to tonality, rhythmic patterns and learned musical practices is a fascinating concept worthy of scientific exploration. Using modern brain-mapping technology and sophisticated research techniques, it may be possible to identify and control the effects of music on the brain, leading to possible benefits to those with mental and even some physical problems. Only time will tell how valuable the research will become, but it looks likely to gain interest and adherents as it becomes a more prominent field of study.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is music psychology and what does it study?

Music psychology is an interdisciplinary field that explores the cognitive processes behind how we perceive, respond to, and create music. It studies a wide range of phenomena, including emotional responses to music, the neurological effects of music on the brain, the psychological aspects of musical performance, and the role of music in social and cultural contexts. By examining these areas, music psychology aims to understand the impact of music on human behavior and experience.

How does music affect our emotions and mood?

Music has a profound impact on our emotions and mood, a relationship that has been extensively studied within music psychology. Research has shown that music can induce a variety of emotional states, from happiness and relaxation to sadness and tension. The mechanisms behind this include the brain's release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure, when listening to music we enjoy, according to a study published in Nature Neuroscience. This emotional connection is why music is often used therapeutically to improve mental health and well-being.

Can music influence cognitive performance?

Yes, music can influence cognitive performance. Studies have found that background music can enhance cognitive tasks such as spatial-temporal reasoning, memory recall, and concentration. For instance, the 'Mozart effect' suggests that listening to Mozart's music may temporarily improve spatial-temporal reasoning abilities. However, the effect of music on cognitive performance can vary depending on the individual, the type of task, and the nature of the music being played.

What role does music psychology play in music therapy?

Music psychology is foundational to music therapy, providing the empirical basis for therapeutic techniques and interventions. Music therapists use insights from music psychology to design activities that address the emotional, cognitive, and social needs of their clients. For example, they might use rhythmic entrainment to help with motor skills or songwriting to facilitate emotional expression. The effectiveness of these methods is supported by research into how music affects the brain and behavior.

How is music psychology researched and what methods are used?

Music psychology is researched using a variety of methods, including experimental studies, observational research, self-reports, and neuroimaging techniques like fMRI and EEG. These methods allow researchers to examine the neurological responses to music, the subjective experiences of listeners, and the observable effects of music on behavior. By combining these approaches, music psychologists can gain a comprehensive understanding of the multifaceted influence of music on the human mind.

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica is passionate about drama and film. She has many other interests, and enjoys learning and writing about a wide range of topics in her role as a MusicalExpert writer.

Learn more...
Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica is passionate about drama and film. She has many other interests, and enjoys learning and writing about a wide range of topics in her role as a MusicalExpert writer.

Learn more...

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Discussion Comments

anon945867

I was born in the south in the 1950's and all the adults in my universe had your typical racist attitudes. Then all of a sudden, The Ed Sullivan Show brought musical artists like The Temptations, The Four Tops, Diana Ross and the Supremes and The Fifth Dimension into white America's living rooms. But my Daddy wouldn't let us watch Ed Sullivan. However, our Grandmother lived with us and she watched Ed Sullivan, so I had to sneak down the hall to her room to watch it. I could get away with it for awhile because we lived in a big old Southern house. You might not notice the absence of a small child in the evening for at least a little while.

He would actually come and get me, but he eventually let us start watching Ed Sullivan and eventually other TV shows that let us hear that wonderful Motown music! I still believe that had a big effect on race relations in my area at the time.

Christian Lee

Now this is interesting. An unexpected combination of two distinctive subjects. I am a musician and thus find interest in people and why we are the way we are. The correlation music has to psychology can be broken down from performance to recording, composing, listening etc. I thank you for this intro on Music Psychology. Highly insightful and helpful. I'll definitely look into this.

anon151130

As a freshman in high school, I'm starting to consider career and college major opportunities. Last year we took a career compatibility test and my most compatible career was "art/music therapist."

I really liked the idea at first, but in the state of South Dakota there are not many jobs in that field. I am in love with music however and was delighted when I read this article; especially since I was and am considering a major in psychology and minor in fine arts. I can't wait to see were life leads me!

anon124224

this is wonderful. thank you so much for your blurb. it really fascinates me that music combines us all. what is it that makes us as one when we hear music with our individual pair of ears. it's like we come together and join hands metaphorically when music is played to a group. there may be no greater force to bring peace, happiness and goodwill to the world.

anon116207

I am currently studying computer science and am madly into music. Can anybody please suggest ways in which I could use my comp. science knowledge with research in music. --Swapnil

musicshaman

I looked into getting a degree in music psychology, and one of the things I thought sounded the coolest about that degree was the experiments.

Music psychology experiments are so interesting -- they even play music for babies just to see how they react. Maybe I'm a music nerd, but that is totally fascinating for me.

galen84basc

@planch -- You could try the Handbook of Music Psychology, or you could even just google "music psychology articles" or "cognitive psychology: music". I bet that would give you a good idea of what kind of research or experiments they do.

Planch

What an interesting concept. I had heard of art psychology before, but never music psychology. I wonder how that got started as a discipline?

Now I'm really interested in this. Are there some good music psychology books or journals out there that I could read to get a better understanding about the different kinds of music psychology research methods?

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    • Music psychology studies the effect of music on humans.
      By: CandyBox Images
      Music psychology studies the effect of music on humans.
    • The human brain is able react to tonality, rhythmic patters and learned musical practices.
      By: Alexandr Mitiuc
      The human brain is able react to tonality, rhythmic patters and learned musical practices.
    • Cultural anthropology examines how music and other performing arts impacts the psychology of a society.
      By: CedarchisCociredeF
      Cultural anthropology examines how music and other performing arts impacts the psychology of a society.
    • Different kinds of music can influence a person's mood.
      By: umberto leporini
      Different kinds of music can influence a person's mood.