Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=222569
Story Retrieval Date: 4/17/2015 11:43:18 AM CST

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Andrea Towers/MEDILL

When we listen to music, our brain responds primarily through the main emotional sensors. (Information obtained from science.com).


New study shows that music can make you happier

by Andrea Towers
Jun 4, 2013


How often do you turn to music to make yourself feel better? For many people, the answer is ”often.”

According to new research from the University of Missouri, “music can make you happier” isn’t a myth.

“I’ve always been interested in the big question of ‘what causes people to be happy?’ said Dr. Yana Ferguson, the study’s lead author. “During my training at University of Missouri, I learned about activities and personal goals that predicted happiness and well-being.”

While the link between our brain and music is not a new discovery, it’s the first time that research has specifically shown that upbeat music can to have an effect on our well-being. The study, titled “Trying to Be Happier Really Can Work: Two Experimental Studies” was recently published in The Journal of Positive Psychology.

Researchers reached their conclusions after conducting two different studies that measured the brain activity of participants, showing how they successfully improved their short-term moods and overall happiness by listening to different types of music. Participants in the first study listened to the music of American composer Aaron Copland as opposed to the more mellow music of European composer Igor Stravinsky, while participants in the second study listened to only upbeat music for a period of two weeks.

Their results, compared to a control group that listened to non-specific music over the same time frame, showed significantly higher levels of activity in the frontal striatum, the region of the brain associated with anticipating rewards.

By examining the scans of brain activity, it was shown that listeners experienced a rush of the feel-good neurotransmitter dopamine near this region, as well as a rush of dopamine in the rear striatum, the brain’s pleasure center.

“We found that people were successful at raising their positive mood as long as the music they listened to was happy and upbeat,” said Ferguson.

Though not specifically conducted for medical reasons, researchers believe the results of the study could also prove useful in improving treatment and care for several conditions, such as stress levels of pregnant women and children with chronic illnesses who need a boost of happiness.

“The connection between art and science is more intimate than people think,” said Murray Gibson, a researcher at Northeastern University in Boston who frequently visits Chicago to study music’s effect on individuals. “I feel strongly about scientists being great at doing science, but leaving it up to them all the time isn’t going to work. People need to be aware how important it can be to learn about science through how we respond to music.”

“It still surprises me that something as simple as listening to upbeat music has such an effect on our mood and happiness,” said Ferguson. “The findings in this research contribute to the growing area of science on well-being and to better understanding how people may become happier … and the results are encouraging for people who are interested in trying out various activities to feel their positive effects in their lives.”