One of the main factors scientists use to differentiate humans from animals is our ability to communicate. Without our advanced communicative skills, humans would have never been able to collaborate on a wide scale or become the dominant species on this planet. It is in its communicative capacity that music has become such a fundamental part of our society. Music provides human beings with a medium to share their creativity and human experience with others (Malloch & Trevarthen, 2018). Our natural attraction to melodies has become an important part of current neuroscience research.
Many studies have been conducted to evaluate music and its effects on the brain. Music has been shown to be an integral tool in the acquisition of language for young children and there is even data to support music’s ability to strengthen attentional networks designed to hear voices in noisy environments (Strait & Kraus, 2011; Malloch & Trevarthen, 2018). In terms of processing, research shows that music is processed separately from language. A fact we were able to glean by studying individuals who suffered brain injuries that altered their ability to understand, read, or write speech, while leaving their ability to read and write music in-tact (Weinberger, 2006).
Our growing understanding of the interplay between music and the brain has led to the development of music therapy as a treatment for several mental health conditions. Music has been found to be incredibly helpful in treating memory loss and degradation of executive functioning in adults with Alzheimer’s Disease (Fang, Ye, Huangfu, & Calimag, 2017). Moreover, music therapy has seen success in establishing therapeutic connections and reducing negative emotions in individuals with PTSD, OCD, and depression (Guétin et al., 2009; Legge, 2015) .
The future of music research is a bright one. As we begin to delve deeper into the underlying mechanisms that allow music to have these effects on us, we will gain a better understanding of the brain. That said, we encourage you to embrace music in your everyday life, as it brings us together and reminds us of the beauty in humanity.