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Essay/Term paper: The mind, music, and behavior

Essay, term paper, research paper:  World Literature

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The Mind, Music, and Behavior


The main purpose of the paper is to investigate and present the relationship
between the mind, music, and human behavior. For this purpose, research is
presented on previous works and studies that link music with the mind. Based on
this research, music increases neurotransmitter levels. Soft or mellow music has
a tendency to promote tranquillity, while music with tempo sometimes distracts.
Human memories can be cued by music, and music can promote improved learning.

The brain is a two and a quarter pound piece of living organic tissue that
controls the human nervous system. Music is a collection of sound waves that
propagate through the air, and has varying frequencies and tones following a
discernible order. Yet we all recognize the significance of the brain beyond its
physical function. Our minds are the essence of what we are. The brain
enigmatically stores memories, and lets people experience such things as emotion,
sensations, and thoughts. In the same sense, music is more than just a
collection of vibrations. This leads to the question of how does music affect
the mind, and in addition, how does music affect human behavior? The reader
might ask why such a question should be relevant. If more is known about the
psychological and neurophysiological effects of music on the human mind, then
the possibilities of this knowledge are unbounded. Music can be used to treat
social and behavioral problems in people with disabilities. The use of music in
the classroom might enhance or weaken a student's work characteristics.
Therefore, whether the influence of music is positive or negative, much needs to
be explored about the link between the mind and music.

Physiologically, the brain receives information about sound waves from the ear
through the auditory nerve. This information is then processed by the brain and
analyzed for the juxtaposition of melody and rhythm. The mixture of melody and
rhythm is what we commonly refer to as music. However, our minds interpret this
auditory information as more than just sound signals; somehow, we are able to
differentiate between certain types of music, and develop preferences for these
different types. Yet, what are the ways in which the effects of music manifest

First, there are particular biochemical responses in the human body to music.
Research shows that college students, when listening to music, have more
galvanic skin response peaks, as opposed to when they were not listening to
music. This research also indicates a significant decrease of norepinephrine
levels in students while they listen to "preferred" music. Norepinephrine is a
neurotransmitter that arbitrates chemical communication in the sympathetic
nervous system of the human body. The release of this neurotransmitter, as a
consequence of a function of the brain, results in an increased heart rate and
heightened blood pressure. Therefore, the decrease of norepinephrine in these
college students results in a more "relaxed" state. This could suggest that
favored or pleasant music somehow affects the mind, resulting in the relaxing of
the body. Another research project, undertaken at the Tokyo Institute of
Psychiatry, focuses on the effects of music on the mind using
electroencephalograms (EEG). An electroencephalograph is a medical instrument
that is capable of showing the electrical activity of the brain by measuring
electrical potentials on the scalp. In this experiment, volunteers were exposed
to silence, music, white noise (simulated hiss), and then silence. The result of
this experiment coincides with the previous findings. The volunteers all
reported feeling a calming sensation. However, the researches did not attribute
the lowered tension to reduced neurotransmitter levels. While listening to music,
"many of the subjects reported that they felt pleasantly relaxed or comfortable…
Music may evoke more organized mental activities which result in subjectively
comfortable feelings." The white noise in the experiment produced an even
greater effect; the volunteers were so relaxed that many felt drowsy and
soporific. This sleepy effect can be explained by the monotonous characteristics
of white noise, in contrast to the variations in tone and melody of normal music.
Furthermore, the researchers found, based on the EEGs, that while listening to
music, the volunteers maintained a higher consciousness than when they were
exposed to silence or white noise. What this experiment shows is that there is a
change in the mental state of people while listening to music; that is, music
has certain psychophysiological effects on humans.

Along with these psychophysiological effects, music has an impact on memory as
well. In one experiment, words were presented to test subjects, while either
classical music, jazz music, or no music played in the background. When the test
subjects were asked to repeat the words a few days later, either the same music
or a different background was present. The researcher noticed a "facilitative
effect of providing the same [musical] context." Similar research has been done
on CDM. CDM stands for context-dependent memory, which is the principle that
"changing the context or environment in which material was originally learned
causes some of that material to be forgotten." A group of scientists tested
college undergraduates by asking the students to rate the pleasantness of a
sequence of words, while they listened to a certain type of music. Afterwards,
they were asked to recall these words. The results indicate that the students
were able to recall the sequence more successfully if the same musical piece was
playing. Furthermore, the researchers found that if the music played during the
recall had a different tempo than the original music, then there was a lowered
ability to recall the words. These results are also supported by a supplementary
investigation, where it was shown that a musical piece can facilitate learning
and recall. Perhaps a common manifestation of this phenomenon is when you
remember the jingles in commercials. A test conducted at the University of
Washington demonstrated that brand names were more easily recalled when they
were presented in the form of a musical tune, instead of just spoken. Hence,
this is a consistent example of one relationship between music and memory.

Now that there is a quasi-established link between the human mind and music,
what are some of the ways that music affects human behavior? Fortunately, there
is a considerable amount of research available that indicates how humans
function while being subjected to music. A group of specialists at the
University of Connecticut studied how people communicate with each other while
background music was present. A hundred and four students were paired off and
put into rooms with either different types of background music playing, or no
music playing. In the rooms, these students were asked to perform some problem
solving tasks that required conversation between them. After five minutes, the
subjects were asked to rate their conversations. Of the students who heard
background music, almost all reported "significantly higher satisfaction [with
communication] than those in the no-music condition." The different types of
music also affected the students. The researchers noted that the students who
listened to fast music had differently paced conversations than those who
listened to slow music. The volunteers who listened to major mode music
performed notably better than those who listened to music of minor mode. Thus,
not only does music affect the way humans converse, but different classes of
music influence people in different ways. A further way in which music has an
impact on our behavior can be witnessed in something as conventional as walking!
A recent investigation into the effects of music on walking distance was
performed at Ursinus College. Volunteers were asked to walk for ninety seconds.
The study showed that, "music significantly influenced distance walked." The
conclusion reached by the scientists in this instance contradicts the previous
results. Instead of "raising the consciousness" of the mind, the researchers
hypothesized that the music interfered with or distracted the minds of the test
subjects. A related study concurs with this finding. In this case, college
students were asked to complete two hundred and twenty hand-eye coordination
problems while listening to different types of music. It was found that the
rhythm and loudness of the background music interfered with the attention span
of the students. These last two studies seem to refute the findings of the other
research; but in a sense, all the studies correlate a modification of behavior
caused by the presence of music.

The next reasonable step is to ask how this modification of behavior or affect
of music on the mind can be harnessed. One major field that may benefit from
music's affect on the mind is education. As a matter of fact, it has been shown
that by exposing students in a classroom to music, the musical exposure enhances
class achievement. A research performed at Glassboro State College indicated
that when music was played in a certain psychology class for twenty minutes each
day, the music "stimulated the human alpha and beta brain waves," resulting in
the attainment of "significantly higher mean scores on examinations than those
who were not exposed to the music." In addition, music can also be used to aid
in the education of mentally handicapped students. In a school district in
Prescott, Arizona, music was added to the academic environment of special
education students. This resulted in an increase in performance, especially in
the area of mathematics.

Thus, it has been established that there is a link between music and the mind or
human behavior. There still, however, remains a great deal of research that
needs to be done in order for us to comprehend the why and how. This is a
substantial challenge, considering that not much is know about the mysteries of
the brain itself, let alone how it is affected by auditory impulse. It should
also be noted that although the studies presented show certain effects of music,
in each study there are exceptions. Some people show no signs of altered
behavior or any other effects of music. There are even some studies where a
majority of the subjects show no known measurable effects of music. Nonetheless
there is a great potential for this topic of the music and the mind. If we
understand how human beings are effected by music, we can alter how human beings
learn and behave, as simply as by turning on the radio.


Balch, William R., Kelley Bowman, and Lauri A. Mohler. (1992). "Music-dependent
Memory in Immediate and Delayed Word Recall." Memory and Cognition, 20, pp. 21-

Becker, Nancy, Catherine Chambliss, Cathy Marsh, and Roberta Monetmayor. (1995).
"Effects of Mellow and Frenetic Music and Stimulating and Relaxing Scents on
Walking by Seniors." Perceptual Motor Skills, 80, pp. 411-415.

Blood, Deborah J., and Stephen J. Ferriss. (1993). "Effects of Background Music
on Anxiety, Satisfaction with Communication, and Productivity." Psychological
Reports, 72, pp. 171-177.

McLaughlin, T. F., and J. L. Helm. (1993). "Use of Contingent Music to Increase
Academic Performance of Middle-School Students." Psychological Reports, 72, p.

Ogata, Shigeki. (1995). "Human EEG Responses to Classical Music and Simulated
White Noise: Effects of a Musical Loudness Component on Consciousness."
Perceptual Motor Skills, 80, pp. 779-790.

Perrewe, Pamela L., and Richard W. Mizerski. (1987). "Effect of Music on
Perceptions of Task Characteristics." Perceptual Motor Skills, 65, pp. 165-166.

Russel, P. A. (1987). "Memory for Music: A Study of Musical and Listener
Factors." The British Journal of Psychology, 78, pp. 335-347.

Schreiber, Elliott H. (1988). "Influence of Music on College Students'
Achievement." Perceptual Motor Skills, 66, p. 338.

Smith, S. M. (1985). "Background Music and Context Dependent Memory." American
Journal of Psychology, 6, pp. 591-603

Sogin, David W. (1988). "Effects of Three Different Musical Styles of Background
Music on Coding by College-Age Students." Perceptual Motor Skills, 67, pp. 275-

Vanderark, Sherman D., and Daniel Ely. (1993). "Cortisol, Biochemical, and
Galvanic Skin Responses to Music Stimuli of Different Preference Values by
College Students in Biology and Music." Perceptual Motor Skills, 77, pp. 227-234.

Wallace, Wanda T. (1994). "Memory for Music: Effect of Melody on Recall of
Text." Journal of Experimental Psychology, 20, pp. 1471-1485.

Yalch, Richard F. (1991). "Memory in a Jingle Jungle: Music as a Mnemonic Device
in Communicating Advertising Slogans." Journal of Applied Psychology, 76, pp.

Microsoft Bookshelf 1995. CD-ROM. United States: Columbia University Press, 1995

Microsoft Encarta 1995. CD-ROM. United States: Columbia University Press, 1995


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