Music and the mind

Every single day, people are out and about, keeping themselves occupied, but it can get boring without some sort of stimulation. Most people listen to music to get themselves through various activities, but why do people tend to listen to calmer music while studying, for example, than upbeat tunes for working out?

Psychology teacher Michael Sullivan came up with his own theory and explanation for why people do this.

“Individuals listen to more upbeat or fast music when doing less enjoyable activities as a way to make those tasks more tolerable, such as driving and working out,” Sullivan said. “When doing less active stuff and more intellectual things, people listen to slower genres of music.”

After some interviews with high school students, Sullivan’s theory seemed to match up with the results the students gave.

“Working out, I listen to pop and fun music to get me going in the gym. If I don’t have this, I’m not going to be motivated to work as hard,” senior Beth Kistner said.  

An article on The Huffington Post said that music is the good kind of distraction, meaning that people are less likely to focus on their exertion if they are listening to music. Listening to upbeat tunes gives the brain more content to process, which takes the mind off of exercising. Faster music also greatly benefits a person’s athletic performance because people try to match their pace with the tempo of the song.

Responders were likely to report that they listened to different music while driving than what they listened to in the gym.

“When I’m driving, I like to listen to rap or pop music because I can sing along to it,” junior Olivia Rosen said. “It keeps me awake and focused on the road.”

One website, The PsyBlog, said, “Many believe that the main benefit of listening to music while driving is to maintain alertness over long periods of time.”

Other students said they listened to pop music or whatever was playing on the radio so that they didn’t need to focus on choosing a song.

“I listen to calmer and smoother music while driving to lighten my mood because I don’t like to drive around angry,” Hopkinton resident Zoë Kerris said.

Another online source, Conscious Lifestyle, said, “After listening to music, serotonin levels can increase. Serotonin is involved in the sleep-wake cycle, mood, and the control of pain perception.”

If serotonin levels are high, then people are likely to be happier, so listening to music can greatly benefit a person’s mood. To get in a better mood, people tend to listen to relaxing and happier sounding music, which has been proven through the examination of people’s serotonin levels.

“We associate certain songs with memories, often relating to the context in which we originally heard them,” according to Conscious Lifestyle.

Some people enjoy being stimulated while studying, but usually it is not the same genre as when people exercise because people’s mindsets are different. Conscious Lifestyle also reported that familiar music helps aid memory when taking a test because people think back to the time that they were studying for the assessment.

Responses varied between listening to soft rock or oldies or classical music to help with focusing on intellectual material and making the information stick for easy retrieval.

As much as music can help with retrieving information for assessments, some people decided not to listen to anything at all.

“I actually don’t listen to anything when I study,” sophomore Ethan Kramer said. “I choose to do it in complete silence because it allows me to just focus on schoolwork, rather than having the desire to sing along with the song and get distracted.”

There is preference for listening to specific music for various tasks, but certain genres are better for getting work done versus getting motivated to exercise.

Music helps with memory so it’s great for studying with. For some people it helps with focusing, and for most, it helps people get in better moods and very motivated to keep their stimulation high.

The Huffington Post said, “Everyone has that go-to song that gets you ‘in the zone,’ and there’s science to why it works.”