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5 Ways Music Can Empower You

Listening to music is an easy way to alter mood or relieve stress.

Key points

  • Music is an important source of positive emotions and pleasurable experiences.
  • Music appears to have the power to energize people.
  • Music can be used as a tool for emotional empowerment, such as enhanced mood and motivation.

Music is a crucial element of everyday life and plays a central role in all human cultures. Interaction with music is rewarding. Music is consistently rated to be one of life’s supreme sources of pleasure. It has a unique power to elicit moments of intense emotional reactions, such as tears, chills/thrills, or goosebumps. The following describes music’s peculiar capacity to empower us:

1. Music as a natural reward. The act of listening and having one's senses stimulated by music is naturally rewarding. For example, babies and infants bounce in synchrony with a musical beat because they find it a pleasurable activity. Research shows that when we listen to music, our brains release dopamine, which, in turn, makes us happy. Dopamine is responsible for why an individual would be motivated to keep listening to a piece of music or to seek out that music in the future. The ability to derive pleasure from music appears to be a unique trait among humans. Although music is evidently not necessary for human survival, it may have notable psychological benefits.

Image by naobim from Pixabay
Source: Image by naobim from Pixabay

2. Music as a source of energy. When we hear a piece of music, its rhythm latches onto us in a process called "entrainment." If the music is fast-paced, our heartbeats and breathing patterns will match the beat. That arousal may then be interpreted by our brains as excitement. The more pleasant-sounding the music, the greater the level of entrainment. Entrainment also explains the energizing effects of music. For example, a jogger listens to techno while running to boost her motivation and speed.

3. Music brings people together. Synchrony leads to positive emotional states and joint arousal. Synchrony is the central feature of dance, whether one is in synchrony with the music, with other people, or with both. Evidence suggests that the social context of dancing is linked with the release of endorphins, the body’s “feel good” chemicals. This explains why benefit concerts are associated with music festivals. In these group settings, music, particularly uplifting music, promotes empathy and emotional connection with a cause.

4. The enjoyment of sad music. Listeners are also moved by sad music. Sad music helps to channel one’s frustration or purge negative emotions, like anger and sadness. When we listen to sad music or watch a sad film, we are disconnected from any real threat or danger that the music or movie represents. At the biological level, sad music is linked to the hormone prolactin (associated with crying), a chemical that helps to curb grief. Prolactin produces feelings of calmness to counteract mental pain.

5. Emotion regulation. Music has the power to affect one's quality of life through emotion regulation. As shown by the Broaden-and-Build Theory, positive emotions result in a broadening of the scope of attention, an increased openness to new experiences, and a readiness to engage in holistic processing. Similarly, the ability of music to increase positive emotions broadens the listener’s behavioral and cognitive repertoire. For example, music that expresses joy may motivate listeners to interact in a particularly excitable way, such as dancing. Furthermore, listening to sad music can be like the phenomenon of depressive realism, which maintains that people are more realistic when they are sad. Sadness encourages more detail-oriented thinking, fewer judgment biases, and more accurate perception. Listening to sad music is shown to encourage more realistic assessments of the likelihood of certain outcomes.

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