Considering music’s effects on mood

Courtesy of Ray García
Music can have surprising effects on one’s mood, depending on the mood of the song.


There is one song on my playlist that I never listen to. I leave it on my playlist because it is a beautiful song, and my music library seems incomplete without it. But the song – In Loving Memory by the rock band Alter Bridge – is simply too sad to listen to.

The song is filled with passionate lyrics about lead guitarist Mark Tremonti’s mother dying of cancer, and how she will never truly be lost. The melancholy chords add power to the lyrics and force me to hit the skip button as soon as the first note hits my eardrums. I know that the song stays with me for much longer than the time it plays through my earbuds, and it is not useful to put myself through all the emotions I will inevitably feel.

Every time I skip the song, it is a reminder of how music can leave a lasting impact on my emotions. Music sparks all kinds of feelings, and science has shown that music can be a powerful tool in shaping people’s moods and creating long-term change.

Scientists at the University of Missouri found that music can lift a person’s mood and increase happiness after two weeks of listening, and upbeat tunes worked best to boost moods. The study also found that listening to upbeat music around breakfast time, when your hormones are trying to stimulate activity in the body, can boost energy by stimulating the body to get up and get moving. Music can have the opposite effect as well.

The same study found that fast music and hard rock can quicken heart beats and create anxiety in the brain. A study from Durham University in the United Kingdom and the University of Jyväskylä in Finland showed that, for some people, sad music can cause feelings of grief caused by associations with sad memories.

Junior Lucy Moss says she has experienced this. She says sad music can be a reminder of sad times, so she actively tries to avoid depressing music when she feels down.

“I know that listening to sad music when I’m sad just makes me more sad,” Moss says, adding that when she is in the car with her friends they never listen to depressing music.

Sad music does not always bring out negative emotions, however. Sometimes depressing songs can provide comfort for listeners.

The research from the United Kingdom and Finland also found that, for most listeners, sad music can bring feelings of pleasure and comfort. Another study published in the Journal of Consumer Research found that people choose sad music when they suffer from “interpersonal loss,” like a breakup. The study suggests that sad music acts as a substitute for the ended relationship and is comparable to talking to a friend who understands your feelings.

And the benefits of music are not limited to mental states. Music can act as a painkiller as well.

A review from 2015 in the medical journal The Lancet found that people who listen to music before, during or after surgery felt less pain than those who did not listen to music. The patients also needed less pain medication than those who did not listen to music. The study showed that people who chose their own music had greater reduction in pain.

Science has shown that music is powerful. It impacts people’s lives and alters their experiences. Junior Kelly Mui learned this while exploring the Milford Sound, a famous fiord in New Zealand with breathtaking views and a glistening inlet. She says when her bus driver started playing inspirational music as they entered the fiord, the music changed her adventure.

“It made it so uplifting,” Mui says. “It made the experience ten times better.”

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