We all have moments in which music can't be missing, whether to lift our spirits or to let a tear fall, and the role that music plays in our lives is so important that its beneficial effects on us are increasingly being studied.
It is impossible to ignore the role that music plays in our lives. Even as I write this, I am listening to the playlist in the background that helps me to concentrate; and how many tasks do we carry out while we are listening to the melodies we like? How many minutes a day do we allow music to invade the space around us?
We know from our own experience that music has different effects on us. Depending on our mood, we prefer one genre or another. Listening to a sad song when we are sad does not seem to be the most productive way to end that feeling, but it is true that we all do it, because somehow it does comfort and soothe us.
To put this in a more scientific way, a study carried out by Ohio University, supported by psychologists from the University of Berlin, has shown that in most of the people, while listening to sad music when they are sad, their levels of a hormone called prolactin increase. This hormone is released with the function of generating a feeling of comfort when we feel an intense emotional pain. With sad music, by increasing the levels of this hormone, a sense of calm is generated that makes us feel a little better. Moreover, sadness can be accompanied by feelings of loneliness or misunderstanding. Listening to sad songs can make us feel accompanied, as we can think that someone else has gone through the same thing and has composed a song about it.
In addition to the emotional relief that music produces, other beneficial effects it can have on us, or in the treatment of certain illnesses or disorders, have been studied.
It has been shown that exposing the foetus in the womb when it has reached a certain stage of development (at 8 to 12 weeks) when it is able to perceive sounds and vibrations to music, would have several advantages for the baby. For example, it stimulates the heart rate and brain activity; it favours neurogenesis, that is, the generation of new neurons, thus favouring the cognitive processes that the individual will develop as he or she grows.
In relation to autism, the researcher Pamela Heaton discovered in 1999, from an experiment, that children with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) were capable of recognising the emotional connotation transmitted by a piece of music, just like children with normal development. The difference between the two groups is that children with ASD are not able to verbalise and explain that emotion. However, if the person with ASD can identify the emotion in music, even if he cannot verbalise it, he may find in this medium a vehicle to express it. This fact would give importance to music therapy as a component of the treatment of autism, because music would make it easier for people with ASD to relate with others and to express themselves through another language that is not the verbal one, making possible an improvement in the quality of life of these people.
Finally, positive effects derived from the application of music therapy have also been observed in people with dementia; for example, the stimulation of cognitive abilities such as attention, orientation, language or memory. Music promotes autobiographical memory in people with dementia, and also reduces their anxiety levels. A familiar melody can evoke a memory or emotion from the past, giving the person with dementia a sense of identity. In the case of Alzheimer's, it has been shown that memory and musical recognition are very well preserved even in the advanced stages of the disease. Music can also stimulate language skills, as we often find people with dementia who have great difficulty in reproducing or understanding verbal language, but they are able to sing songs or even learn new ones.
Nowadays, the benefits of music in the treatment of certain diseases are still being studied, either to slow down the progression of the disease or to improve the quality of life of those suffering from it.
Although music is not an essential element that we cannot live without; or it is not the solution to our problems or the cure for any illness, how would our live be if we did not accompany it with its own soundtrack?