Lots of psychology experiments (research into people’s minds) have studied music. People all over the world listen to music. It is an important part of culture and is played at important life events such as funerals and births. But it also has an effect on people’s brains. We have special areas of our brains which are more active when we listen to music. For example, the superior temporal gyrus in the temporal lobe of the brain, just above your ear.


Music and Studying

Some research has found that music distracts people. But other research has found that background music helps people focus. It depends on the type of music. Music with lyrics can be distracting, but music without words can help you concentrate. Happy music improves how quickly people can think, such as how fast people can do a mathematical problem. However, people who play musical instruments focus better if they listen to less emotional music. This might be because they are more likely to become distracted by music if they know more about it. Music also reduces stress. People listening to music calm down more quickly after a stressful event than people not. You could try listening to instrumental music to see whether it helps you concentrate and stay calm.


Music and Pain

Some psychologists are studying whether music can be used to reduce pain. People with chronic pain (pain which carries on for a long time and often can’t be cured) are not always helped by medicine. Music can sometimes reduce pain for these people. This is important because medication can have bad side effects but music doesn’t, so music might allow people to take less pain medication. Music makes the brain produce chemicals called ‘opioids’ which are natural pain-killers. In fact, opioids are found in pain medication such as morphine.


Music might help because pain is stronger when you’re stressed. The most effective music for reducing pain is music that the patient likes. This might be because it is the music that makes that person happiest and so less stressed. Music reduces stress and as a result reduces pain.


Music and Sleep

Music can help people with insomnia. Music makes it easier to fall asleep and improves sleep quality. For this to work, the music has to be gentle. Psychologists have found that people’s heartbeat slows to match the speed of the music. When your heartbeat is slower (about 60 beats per minute), you fall asleep. The effect works in lots of people, from children to older people.


Music has been played for centuries but psychologists are just now finding out how important it is. The more research psychologists do, the more amazing effects of music will be discovered. Music might even be able to help you. If you have a headache or need to concentrate, you could try playing music and see if it helps. You could even make it into an experiment!