The Neuroscientific Power of Music on Mental Health

The Universal Language

Music is a universal language, with evidence of instruments dating back 40, 000 years ago in caves of the Swabian Alps. It has continually intrigued neuroscientists, due to its profound impact on the human brain. In this month’s wellbeing blog, I wanted to talk about how music can shape and enhance our mental health.

1. Elevating Mood through Musical Engagement

When we connect with music, our brain’s reward system ignites, releasing dopamine—the pleasure and reward neurotransmitter. Salimpoor et al. (2011) discovered that this dopamine surge rivals the joy from delectable food or a warm hug. Harnessing this neuro boost can be a game-changer, particularly in nerve-wracking situations like presentations.

2. Stress Reduction: The Soothing Power of Music

Music’s calming influence extends to stress reduction, with the brain regulating cortisol, the stress hormone. Thoma et al. (2013) found that music can lower cortisol levels, fostering a sense of relaxation and stress relief. The genre of music matters, with classical tunes reducing stress and improving concentration, while upbeat genres like pop and rock can boost energy levels.

3. Enhancing Memory: A Symphony for the Brain

The impact of music on memory is astounding. Chan et al. (1998) revealed that music training enhances verbal memory, engaging the brain’s cognitive circuits and improving memory retention. This sheds light on the cognitive enhancement potential of music, a promising area in neuroscientific research.

4. Emotional Expression: The Intricate Dance of Emotions

Exploring music’s capacity to express and evoke emotions unveils the intricate interplay of brain regions involved in emotional processing (Juslin and Västfjäll, 2008). Music’s ability to convey complex emotions reflects the brain’s remarkable capacity for emotional regulation and expression.

5. Cognitive Enhancement: Music’s Impact on Skills

The intricate patterns in music can enhance various cognitive skills. Bugos et al. (2007) emphasize that music training, especially in childhood, improves spatial-temporal abilities, language processing, and mathematical proficiency. Music becomes a tool for navigating the complexities of melodies and harmonies.

6. Resilience and Emotional Regulation: Music as a Catalyst

Music serves as a powerful tool for emotional regulation and resilience by activating brain regions responsible for processing emotions (Koelsch et al., 2013). This empowers individuals to navigate life’s challenges with enhanced emotional resilience.

7. Social Connectivity: Music’s Evolutionary Role

Evolutionarily, music has played a pivotal role in fostering social bonds. Recent studies show that synchronizing movements to music activates brain areas associated with social bonding (Kokal et al., 2011). Music becomes a potent tool for promoting social connectivity and strengthening relationships.

8. Neurological Therapy: Harnessing Music for Healing

Neurological music therapy (NMT) utilizes music’s neuroscientific principles to aid individuals with neurological conditions. Thaut et al. (2015) demonstrate how structured music interventions engage various brain regions, promoting speech, motor skills, and emotional expression in patients with conditions like stroke and Parkinson’s disease.

How to Incorporate More Music into Your Life

In a world filled with distractions, mindful listening to music fosters a genuine connection between your emotions and the music you love. Here’s some ideas about how to incorporate mindful music listening into your daily routine:

  1. Create Playlists: Curate playlists reflecting your mood or desired emotions for relaxation, motivation, or self-reflection.
  2. Remove Distractions: Find a quiet space to fully immerse yourself in the music without distractions.
  3. Breathe and Feel: Take deep breaths and let the music wash over you. Pay attention to how it makes you feel and the emotions it evokes.
  4. Reflect: After your listening session, take a moment to reflect on the experience. What did you discover about yourself, and how has your mood shifted?


She struggled with her own gut health for many years, with over-the-counter medicines failing to provide any relief, so decided to take matters into her own hands, completing a three-year diploma in Nutritional Therapy.

She now works with people struggling with their own gut health, hormonal imbalances and chronic disease, taking a full-body approach to their health.

She delivers our Cultivating a Healthy Gut for Good Mental Health programme.

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Her background is in mental health and wellbeing having worked in a range of settings including businesses, the NHS and charities.

Kate has lived experience of mental illness and previously worked as a Peer Supporter for the NHS before joining a local company delivering sport and wellbeing session in schools where she spent many years before becoming a freelance trainer.

Kate has been a qualified Mental Health First Aid instructor since 2014.

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Her vast experience in business – working as a management consultant for companies like KPMG before setting up her own consultancy practice – has seen her designing and delivering practical interventions to companies from varying sectors.

She developed her own model for employee engagement that has seen fantastic success in the corporate world.
Sue has an MA in HRM/MCIPD and is a BPS registered Behaviour Assessor.

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