Did you ever wonder exactly HOW music effects your brain and your body?

Music has well established psychological effects on moods and emotions.

Think about that.

We already know this if even subconsciously. If music did not have a physiological effect on our body and mind, marches would be played at bedtime and not at the half-time of football games. Lullabies would be heard at parades and Gregorian chant would bombard our ears at the grocery store.
Want to know more? Here is the scientific answer to how music affects our physiology and our psychology.

When our level of consciousness changes from waking to sleeping, the electrical activity of our brains changes as well. If one induces a sleeping pattern in the brain by drugs or other means, the behavior goes along. Music can have an influence in the same way.

To begin to understand the power of music on our bodies and brains, we need to consider some physiology.

The brain sends and receives messages from the rest of the body every minute, second and fraction of a second. As for the receiving side of things, the brain gets information from our senses -- vision, hearing, touch, taste, smell, etc. But there is another major source of input to our brains…our bodily hormones. These are secreted by our endocrine system and include hormones, like testosterone and estrogen, and a group called "stress" hormones, like adrenaline and cortisol.

There are several studies that have addressed the issue of whether music itself actually changes the amount of release of our stress hormones. Most of these have concentrated on measuring levels of cortisol before and after various exposures to music.

The studies start with attempts to reduce cortisol levels, or more specifically to prevent increased release of this stress hormone, in conjunction with a traumatic experience. Without going into the entire scientific research, the answer was YES. Music can greatly reduced the duration of the cortisol response to stress. What does this mean? It means that listening to the right kind of music can prevent you from getting stressed or anxious by lowering the body’s response to stress hormones.

We already self-select music but often without an understanding of how or why certain music affects them in a particular way. If a selection of music produces certain signs of stimulation of the autonomic nervous system, like increased respiration and heart rate, the we could be "self-dosing" with increased levels of cortisol, adrenaline and other stress hormones. For example, runners will choose a song with an upbeat tempo that innately helps them keep their pace while exercising. Exercising to music can increase the level of endurance by up to 30%!

Ask yourself, if music has all this affect on your own body and brain, and you are transmitting this to your horse, how important is choosing the “right” music for you and your horse to ride to?

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(For the review of the study, go to Möckel, M., Röcker, L., Störk, T., Vollert, J., Danne, O., Eichstädt, H., Müller, R. and Hochrein, H. (1994). Immediate physiological responses of healthy volunteers to different types of music: cardiovascular, hormonal and mental changes. Eur. J. Appl. Physiol., 68, 451-459.)

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Comment by Kathleen K on April 26, 2011 at 4:55pm

Great blog post Ruth! I definitely see the relationship between music and stress. I have an anxiety disorder and despite it being very well controlled I still get stressed out easily. I've always found that music (and maybe a nap) is the best way to calm down.


I wonder if music has the same effect on horses? I imagine it would and in my experience it does have a positive effect. Would be very neat to see research done on this.

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