Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Effect of Music on Society

We are surrounded by music every day. No matter where we go, whether in the grocery store, the mall, our workplace, or school, there is music constantly playing. We sit down to watch a movie or flip on the TV and automatically, before our mind can even recognize the picture on the screen, we hear the music. Children often are exposed to a variety of music before they even attend middle school through nursery school songs such as “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” and “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” Speculations have been made in the past whether music has any impact on people or affects them in any way. Research suggests that music, whether we are playing an instrument or listening to the radio, has the capability to have a profound impact on our lives.

Young babies seem to love it when they are sang a song by their parents. They clap their hands and bounce along with the rhythms. Soothing music such as “Hush Little Baby” and even classical pieces will often put a baby to sleep or calm them down. Upbeat songs or chants such as “This Little Piggy Went to the Market” or “Pat a Cake, Pat a Cake, Bakers Man” can result in babies giggling and laughing for hours. Even at this early stage in life babies can begin to recognize rhythms and songs. Music can also affect premature babies. Researchers at Brigham Young University (as cited in Robledo, 2011) conducted a study in which they played music for thirty-three newborns that were in the neonatal intensive care unit at Utah Valley Regional Medical Center. After playing lullabies for forty minutes each day for four days, they found that the babies that were exposed to music had gained more weight, had a lower blood pressure, and a stronger heartbeat.

It seems that music has the largest effect on young and school age children. Children that are exposed to music from a young age have been documented to score higher on tests. James Catterall (as cited in Raise Smart Kid, 1997) of ULCA conducted a ten year study with 25,000 students and found that those involved with music-making improved their scores in reading proficiency and standardized tests. Music has been said to help with language learning skills in both a baby learning his or her first language and a child learning a second language. Lisa Karimer (as cited in Legg,2009), author of “Can Southeast Asian Students Learn to Discriminate Between English Phonemes More Quickly With the Aid of Music and Rhythm?”, conducted a study in a large comprehensive school in England. The aim of the experiment was to see if music made any difference when it came to learning a foreign language. They took the twelve and thirteen year old second year French students and divided them into two groups. In one of the groups they used music to aid with learning by putting French vocabulary into little songs. In the other group they did not change the learning environment at all. The results of the experiment were found when the children of both groups were tested on their increased level of understanding of the French language at the end of the school year. The non-music group increased their knowledge by 39.9% that year while the music group increased their knowledge by 52.8%. The non-music group held the lowest individual score while both groups held the highest individual score.

In September of 2006 a research study was conducted to see if taking music lessons effected a young child’s brain development. This was the first time this type of study was done. Previous studies had been conducted on older children to see if their grades differed such as in the previous example, but this was the first study conducted on children ages four to six. The study used two groups of children, one with no musical background and the other a group of kids just starting Suzuki music lessons. After a year of monitoring these children, they concluded that not only did the musically trained children’s brains respond to music differently but the lessons had improved their memory, literacy, visiospatial processing, mathematics, and IQ as well (Oxford University Press, 2006). So does music automatically make you smarter? No, but as researcher Kristian David Olson (1996) said, “Music won't turn anyone into a genius, but it can have some substantial effects on bringing people above average at least.”

The educational subjects that are said to be affected through music include: math, reading, English, biology, chemistry, and math. College students have been reported to score higher on tests in all subjects when they have had musical training for several years in their past. Even when they did not have musical training but listened to classical music, their scores improved. So why is this? When we listen to classical music, our brain essentially uses the same path that it uses for spatial reasoning. Learning a musical instrument can actually create new pathways in our brain (Bales, 2011). However, just as soon as we turn on or create these new pathways they can disappear. Bales (2011) says that “the effect lasts only a short time. Our improved spatial skills fade about an hour after we stop listening to the music. Learning to play an instrument can have longer-lasting effects on spatial reasoning, however.” Also, the discipline required when learning an instrument can help in the future with academic achievement. So while the music itself doesn’t make you any smarter, the effect of it can help you think and learn at a higher level.

Perhaps the most surprising type of music that can have an effect on us is background music. We often do not notice the music being played in the store when we are shopping, and for the most part that is on purpose. The music is there to cover up the noise from other shoppers, so you can concentrate on your own purchases. Some stores use the music to improve their image, and they believe using upbeat tunes will make the customers happier (Milliman 1982). Background music at work is said to improve job satisfaction, concentration, and productivity. The Journal of Neuroscience of Behavior and Physiology (as cited in eMed Expert,2011) claims that “a person's ability to recognize visual images, including letters and numbers, is faster when either rock or classical music is playing in the background.” Human Resources Magazine (as cited in Gorden, 2008) reports a study by researchers at the University of Illinois which concluded that "listening to music may increase the output of employees in all types of work.” This study showed that the output of employees of all types increased by 6.3%. Stress in the workplace is often a cause of distraction and less productivity. According to the Journal of Neuroscience of Behavior and Physiology( as cited in William Gorden, 2008) “If you are aiming to be more productive through being more relaxed, then you may be interested to learn that research has shown that music with an upbeat rhythm can reduce stress hormone levels by as much as 41%.”

Another type of background music is found in movies and on TV. The music that you may or may not notice when you are watching a movie is used as a tool by the producers to get the viewer to the emotional place of the scene. Music is often more affective and powerful than the words are. A unknown author (2008) of the blog “Hopkins Cinem Adddicts” says in a discussion about the importance of music in film, “I believe that a movie’s music is one of its most important aspects; a characteristic that is often taken for granted. A film can reveal so much within its music. Beyond the creepy background music of thrillers that tells you the killer is around the corner, music has the ability to expose characters’ feelings, actions, and a film’s tensions.” The author (2008) also goes on to say that “everywhere we go music follows us, making us desensitized to it. Our habituation to music means we easily overlook music’s role in our lives, and even more so in film. Music’s function is deeper than simply background music. Focus on the songs the director chooses, and you will have a much greater understanding of a film; you’ll learn and experience a good deal more.”

Music also has the ability to affect stress. It has been known to alleviate stress by taking your mind off it. Both classical and especially upbeat music can help you feel more positive and optimistic. Soft music can help you relax tense muscles from the stress and tension of your day. It can also help with insomnia. The eMed Expert web site (2011) explains that “music can decrease the amount of the cortisol, a stress-related hormone produced by the body in response to stress.” Music is one of the easiest, most enjoyable, ways to alleviate a stressful day; after all, it doesn’t take up any extra time doing any certain stress reliving activity. All you have to do is turn it on.

Different ailments have also been known to be relieved by music. The intensity, frequency, and duration of headaches can be alleviated through music. It can also help with pain management. The sensation and distress of postoperative and chronic pain can be eased through listening to music. The chronic pain from Osteoarthritis, disc problems, and rheumatoid arthritis has been researched to be reduced by 21% from music. The eMed Expert (2011) website lists four theories about how the music effects perceived pain. The first theory claims that music is a distracter; therefore, it removes people’s minds from the pain when they are involved in listening. The second theory asserts that music gives the patient a sense of control. The third theory states that when we are listening to music, our body releases endorphins which counteract the pain. Lastly, the fourth theory claims that slow music relaxes a person which slows their breathing and heartbeat. According to the American Society of Hypertension (as cited in eMedExpert, 2011), blood pressure can also be regulated through music. They said that “listening to just thirty minutes of classical, Celtic, or raga music every day may significantly reduce high blood pressure” and that you can heighten low blood pressure by “playing recordings of relaxing music every morning and evening.” Stroke patients can also benefit from listening to music. The eMed Expert (2011) website records a study that was done with stroke patients in which half did not listen to any extra amount of music then they normally would and the other half listened to music for several hours a day. The group that listened to music several hours a day improved their verbal memory and attention span significantly more than the other group. These are just a few of the ailments that have been researched to have been positively affected through music.

Elderly musicians have been researched to have less hearing impairments than non-musicians. Benjamin Rich Zendel (as cited in Connelly, 2011), a PhD candidate at the University of Toronto, conducted a study with Dr. Claude Alain, senior cognitive scientist and assistant director of the Rotman Research Institute, and found that “being a musician may contribute to better hearing in old age by delaying some of the age-related changes in central auditory processing.” Other hearing studies have also shown that trained musicians have more auditory abilities than to non-musicians do.

The type of music we listen to makes a difference as to the effect it will have on us. Classical music, especially pieces written by Mozart and Vivaldi, seem to have the most effect when children are taking tests, trying to fall asleep, or staing focused on a task. Chasing away depression, doing monotonous tasks, or going for a run are most affected through upbeat music such as bluegrass, rock, Klezmer, Salsa, or reggae. When it comes to music having the ability to make you smarter, often it comes through the actual learning of an instrument. This has the potential to have the greatest effect on a person. It is said that learning an instrument can not only teach patience and diligence but also instill a love for learning that will last a lifetime.

No matter how old or young you are or what stage of life you are in, music has the ability to positively affect you in numerous ways. For a child, music, which comes so easy, is the way they often express themselves. Before children can even speak, they are cooing about this or that, and often, they can get their point across without even using words. The ability to make music aids their ability to learn language. Researchers have proved that the more children are exposed to music and taught how to play instruments, the higher the likelihood of them having a high IQ is. Sitting at your desk at work or shopping in the clothing store, music is once again affecting you. Music has the ability to manipulate your mind through films and ease your stress after a long day at work. A prescription for music can be taken to alleviate numerous ailments and chronic pain. As you can see, recent research demonstrates how music has the ability to have a large impact on society and how we conduct our daily lives.


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Milliman, R. (1982) Using Background Music to Affect the Behavior of Supermarket Shoppers. The Journal of Marketing, 46, 86-91

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Oxford University Press (2006, September 20). First Evidence That Musical Training Affects Brain Development In Young Children. ScienceDaily. Retrieved from­ /releases/2006/09/060920093024.htm

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