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Music, Mood, and MRIs

May 5, 2017

It’s certainly no secret that the type of music you listen to can and does affect your mood. Feeling angry and confused? Maybe you’ll listen to Come As You Are by Nirvana. In a good mood and feeling a little defiant and cheeky? Perhaps it’s time for Beyoncé’s Put A Ring On It. And for me, after a particularly nasty break-up when I was in my mid-20s, I turned to Wasted Time by the Eagles, hoping I might find some comfort and clarity after the 430th repetition.

Whatever the reason, whatever the mood, music is there to guide you through your emotions – to put you at ease, to stir you up, to calm you down.

In a 2015 study conducted jointly by the Centre for Interdisciplinary Music Research at the University of Jyväskylä, Aalto University in Finland, and Aarhus University in Denmark, researchers “decided to investigate the relationship between mental health, music listening habits and neural responses to music emotions by looking at a combination of behavioural and neuroimaging data.1” They did this by recording the neural activity of participants, using an MRI scan while they listened to music that was either happy, sad, or fearful-sounding.

Another study, this one by the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, concluded that not only does music affect your mood, it can also change how you perceive the world. Using smiley and sad emojis, test subjects were asked to identify these two emojis while they listened to either happy or sad music. “Music turned out to have a great influence on what the subjects saw: smileys that matched the music were identified much more accurately.2

So, enough science for now; let’s cut to the chase. As we knew instinctively, our music choices reflect our mood. But what’s interesting about these studies is what it says about not only our mood, but our mental health and our perceptions of the world around us. If we are what we eat, we also are what we listen to.

With that in mind, what does that say about the particular genre of music that listeners tune into? And what does that say about the music your station plays? While we can’t exactly change our playlist, it is good to be mindful about the mood our music puts our listeners in. And since “customers who find themselves in a happy mood are more likely to make a purchase than those in an unhappy mood3,” it might be a good idea before the commercial break to give Beyoncé some air time. After all, you wouldn’t want it to be wasted time.

-Barbara Krebs, Quality Assurance

1https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/10/151022094959.htm, Music Listening Habits Tell About Mental Health

2https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/110427101606.htm, Music Changes Perception, Research Shows