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Your Favorite Music Has 1 Major Impact On Your Brain, Says Science

New study shows what happens when you listen to different music.

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BY Lisa Calhoun - 15 May 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

A recent scientific study published in Nature connects listening to music to activating creativity and learning in the brain. It's not a new idea. For years, programs like Baby Beethoven and others have suggested that classical music conveys particular benefits. But it's almost clich that older generations tend to hate the that music younger generations crave . . .

Is there some scientific evidence that one sort of music makes you better?

Robin Wilkins, Director of Human Neuroimaging Gateway MRI Center Joint School for Nanoscience and Nanoengineering, decided to find out. After all, if true, the 'right' music could potentially life not just your mood, but also your creativity, productivity or calmness.

In a recent study, she and her research team, including students from the Music Research Institute at University of North Carolina Greensboro and and the Laboratory for Complex Brain Networks, Wake Forest School of Medicine, made MRI images of people's brains while they listened to different types of music. They piped classical, country, rap, rock, and even Chinese opera into their ears. The researchers imaged how the participants' brains responded to a pre-reported favorite song. They also had the participants scale all music as liked or disliked.

So what happened? Well first, they found no particular response per genre. What did stand out is that the images of brains listening to disliked music were mostly dark. Listening to Chinese opera wasn't much different than listening to rock, except for one critical factor--your preference.

Your favorite tunes

The brains of the study participants changed completely when they were listening to music they liked. The scientists discovered that listening to your favorite music makes a huge difference in how your brain responds. Whether you're an Imagine Dragons or a Elvis fan, if you love it, it loves you back. Signs of the musically activated brain included increasing the activity and connections in memory and emotional centers.

"We speculate that listening to music has the potential to alter brain network connectivity organization and that music preference dictates the connectivity that can be expected," the study authors write. When you listen to music you don't love, the brain's connectivity between memory and emotional centers doesn't light up. In fact, the MRI images hinted that perhaps when listening to music we don't like, our brains are less connected. "Based on these findings, it might be possible that listening to preferred music has the potential to engage such brain functions," they write.

Tuning in is a brain turn on

This study also has implications for musical education as well as music therapy. "Our results suggest that using each brain-injured person's preferred music might have a stronger effect than disliked music," the authors write.

So, feel like plugging in your ear phones at work? Turn it up. As you jam out to your favorite music, your mind is potentially opening connections that enhance creativity, help you access your memories, and build new connections.

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