Updated: May 7, 2018
In 2014, Beats by Dre launched a massive marketing campaign to promote Powerbeats, the in-ear headphones designed with LeBron James. Of course, their goal was to capitalize on LeBron’s star power and sell more earbuds. The campaign was aptly named “My Music/My Power.” It was marketing genius, and the centerpiece was this commercial that helped drive revenue into the billions. Being an Akron girl and a LeBron fan, it got my attention. But, I wasn't alone. The original YouTube clip had 4 million views just two days after it was posted.
As it turns out, it's more than just a catchy tag line superimposed over LeBron’s intense stare. In fact, there is power in music and advances in neuroscience enable researchers to quantitatively measure how music affects the brain.
Music Changes the Brain
Playing an instrument or listening to music is the brain’s equivalent of a cross-training workout. The impact of music on memory has been correlated to complex perception, cognition, and motor function since the landmark “Mozart Effect” study conducted in 1993. The controversial claim that listening to a Mozart sonata for ten minutes increases one’s IQ has been widely criticized, but it did open the door for significant research proving of the effects of music on the human body, brain function, and brain cell regeneration.
Over the last decade, neuroscientists have been discovering much about the impact music has on the brain in cases of brain injury, strokes, and Parkinson’s disease. This new scientific model, Neurologic Music Therapy, has emerged as an evidence-based therapeutic approach recognized by the World Federation of Neurorehabilitation. Neuroimaging techniques enable us to actually see the powerful impact music has on the elasticity of the brain. Music actually physically changes the brain and engages areas that are not unique to music. The auditory (temporal lobe), emotional (limbic system), and motor (cerebellum) regions all grow larger and interact more efficiently when the brain processes music. However, the number of areas in the brain activated by music tend to vary depending on your musical background and tastes.
“I often think in music. I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music.” – Albert Einstein
Music also affects mood and emotion. We experience it every time we watch a movie. Think about the theme songs for Rocky, James Bond, or Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. They each evoke emotions of inspiration, intrigue or danger. More than any other type of stimulus, music evokes feelings and heightens the emotions associated with them. The brain’s emotional center is highly engaged when processing music.
Music Enhances Athletic Performance
Studies also show that listening to music before or during physical activity can increase performance. Many top athletes plug in to mentally prepare. LeBron James rocks out to Jay-Z before he takes the court, Gabby Douglas is a Katy Perry fan, and Michael Phelps cues up hip hop to get psyched. Personal music preference plays a role, but we now know that different genres impact performance more than others.
If you're a golfer, you might want to add Miles Davis or John Coltrane to your playlist. A 2014 exploratory study examined the influence of different music genres on putting accuracy. The findings showed that music did improve putting performance over no music. Specifically, jazz was more effective than all of the other genres including hip hop, rap, classical, country, and rock.
“Music can change the world because it can change people.” – Bono
Certain genres of music are also shown to infuse a sense of power-related thoughts and behaviors. A recent study examined the effect of “power tunes” like Queen’s “We Will Rock You” and 50 Cent’s “In Da Club.” They found that power music elicited higher abstract thinking, visionary (big picture) thinking, and an increased sense of illusory control – all traits associated with intellectual power. Instrumental bass-heavy music generated greater power-related feelings than light-bass versions of the same songs.
Music in the Workplace
If you need a little motivation to grind through a laborious tasks or a long afternoon at work, music does more for you than a java jolt or a sugar high. One of the primary ways music affects mood is by stimulating the production of chemicals in the brain. Dopamine is integral to the pleasure-reward system and it's also known as the "motivation molecule." It’s also the same chemical we get when we have an orgasm, eat chocolate or experience "runner's high." You can increase your dopamine hit by shuffling your playlist. When one of your favorite songs unexpectedly comes up, it triggers a small dopamine boost.
Music can also have an impact on engagement and the way we perceive the culture at work. Playing music with others or enjoying live music stimulates the production of oxytocin. Oxytocin is also called the "trust molecule" and the "cuddle drug" because it helps us bond with and trust others. Studies also show that the boost of oxytocin bump generated by music reinforces our moral compass and makes people more generous and trustworthy.
Totaljobs.com teamed up with a music psychologist to create The Sound of Productivity Report. One interesting finding was that 79% of survey respondents work better with music, while 21% perform better in a music-free environment. Take their Sound of Productivity Quiz to see if music enhances your work or hinders it. This interactive tool will even create a playlist based upon your music/work preferences.
Now that you know the science behind the power of music, rock out with Queen before your next presentation. The next time you head into a board meeting with your leadership team or high-pressure negotiations with the competition, crank up the bass to give you a boost of power. Make sure you’ve got a little jazz in your pocket the next time you’re on the green. Or, as the Doobie Brothers so eloquently put it, just “listen to the music” and enjoy!
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