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How Music Affects Emotion, Intelligence, and Health

So many outside factors can affect our emotions, such as movies, friends, books, television shows, something someone says, or even food. One of these factors is obviously music. Even without words, music can make us joyful or depressed, energized or sleepy.

Think of the last time a song really moved you, or meant something to you. Listening to and playing music stimulates many different sections of the brain, affecting us physically as well. Why are we as humans so connected to music?

Making music is one of our most basic instincts. There’s a reason we refer to music as the “universal language”; there has been no known human culture without music. Dancing and music came before agriculture, and possibly even before language. Bone flutes were found in Europe dating back 53,000 years ago. The head of the Biomusic program at the National Academy of the Sciences, Patricia Gray, and her colleagues comment, “The fact that whale and human music have so much in common even though our evolutionary paths have not intersected for 60 million years suggests that music may predate humans-that rather than being the inventors of music, we are latecomers to the musical scene.” (Leutwyler)

Music and Childhood

We begin life being affected by music; babies first begin to respond to music while still in the womb. Whether or not it’s true, everyone has heard that playing classical music for your baby supposedly helps him or her become smarter. A study done in the United Kingdom concluded that children are able to recognize and even prefer music that they had heard while in the womb up to three months before birth. Although the genera of music made no difference, the babies who were exposed to songs with a faster tempo showed a stronger preference for that song than those who had heard something slower. (”Babies Remember Music Heard in the Womb”) Researchers have also found that the playing of soft background music or a mother’s humming actually helps premature babies. Those who are subjected to the music tend to gain weight faster and are able to leave hospitals earlier than those who aren’t. (Cromie, “Music on the Brain”)

However, the study in the UK uncovered no links between babies listening to music and increased intelligence or brain development. Another experiment at the University of California at Irvine compared the puzzle-solving abilities of 3-year-olds who were given piano lessons with the ability of others who sang, used computers, or did nothing. The children studying piano were better at the puzzles. Also, high school students with a musical background seem to do better on their SATs. (Cromie, “How Your Brain Listens to Music”) Whether it’s natural intelligence that helps the children excel in both music and math, or the music that helps develop other areas, you can’t deny the benefits of a musical background.

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User Comments
  1. Jack Rodnessey

    On April 4, 2008 at 6:45 pm

    Very useful article. Learned alot from this. Hope to see more in the future.

    - Jack

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    On November 15, 2009 at 4:35 pm

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  20. D

    On November 23, 2009 at 4:05 pm

    All of my life my pastor told us that music affects you in ways we can comprehend. that listening to heavy metal that is constantly pushing bad messages into your ears would start to take a toll on you. I have experienced this first hand. I listen to many types of music, especially since I am a singer and music is well for all intense purposes a side from God my life. I have noticed that when I listen to for example upbeat music, no matter what the words generally say I am happy. If I am listening to down and sad music, I start to fell depressed. I wonder if thats just me, or if this article is write and music effects our emotions and our moods. I now found what I am going to write my research paper on your my exit exam…the effects of music. This ones going to rock. have a happy thanksgiving. :)

  21. Kelsey

    On November 30, 2009 at 6:34 pm

    Okay so I really enjoyed this article and it really helped with writing my research paper for Freshman Composition, yet i did find something inaccurate about this. In the second paragraph it states that “There’s a reason we refer to music as the ‘universal language’; there has been no known human culture without music.” Well there is one culture/community that music doesn’t influence a whole lot, the Deaf Community and it’s steadily increasing. Not saying anything bad about you or anything, just a topic to look into.

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  24. Mickey D

    On April 16, 2010 at 2:54 pm

    I am doing my junior paper on Musical affects on emotions, and such, and I am using some information from this page, but I can’t find the website that O’Donnell has the information on that you wrote about in your paper, and I was wondering if you could help me out.
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  29. şekeriim

    On March 29, 2011 at 3:31 pm

    ı love this article a lot.ı had heardsomething about the effects of music but ı ve not known all . it is really intressting and ı wonder now why music is nt used at schools to increase the speed of learning

  30. marcela

    On April 24, 2011 at 7:13 pm

    what books did you use to get all this information?

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  32. Common sence

    On May 23, 2012 at 4:41 pm

    Heavy metal music is bad for you? But you failed to do any research on the negitive social effects of urban music. What year is your research from 1983? Truly this is apex of thought for this race, I cant wait until it’s over.

  33. Common sence

    On May 23, 2012 at 4:41 pm

    Heavy metal music is bad for you? But you failed to do any research on the negitive social effects of urban music. What year is your research from 1983? Truly this is apex of thought for this race, I cant wait until it’s over.

  34. Jes

    On December 27, 2012 at 9:14 pm

    A lot of useful info in this article thank u Jesus. Im doing a Mla paper on how music effects human intelligence Thank you.

  35. Bernd Willimek

    On March 11, 2013 at 4:05 am

    To answer the question, why music can make emotions, you should know, that music is not able to transmit emotions directly. Music can convey operations of will, but the music listener perceives the operations of will dyed by emotions. Similar, when you watch a dramatic film in cinema, the film cannot transmit emotions directly, but operations of will. The spectator perceives the operation of will dyed by emotions – identifying with the protagonist.
    If you want more information about the emotional effect of music, you should know the Strebetendenz-Theory. It says listening music we identify with a will against the changing of dissonant overtone-intervals. On this way you can derive the emotional colors of musical chords and find the first method to explain, why music touches us emotionallyIt is described in the essay “Vibrating Molecules and the Secret of their Feelings”. You can get it on the link:

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