The support for this phenomenon was based on research conducted in 1993, where the effect of listening to classical music was shown to enhance spatial-temporal reasoning in subjects as measured by an IQ test. The effects actually only lasted up to 15 minutes, but somewhere along the line these results became misconstrued to the notion that listening to Mozart could increase one’s general IQ and actually make them “smarter.”
Additional research helped to debunk that theory, but other studies have shown that there are benefits to listening to classical music, including the reduction in depression. An online article titled “Classical Music an Effective Antidepressant" written by Tom Jacobs cites a study conducted on 79 patients at an Oaxaca clinic in Mexico, where 79 patients were divided into two groups. Over the course of eight weeks half the group received 30 minutes of counseling with a psychologist each week. The other half spent 50 minutes each day listening to classical music (compositions by Bach and Mozart). By the end of the study 29 of the music listeners showed improvement and only 12 of the talk therapy group improved. The researchers determined that there was “a statistically significant effect for music," suggesting that music can “enhance the effects of psychological support.”
They were not suggesting that listening to music be used as a replacement for other types of therapy, but rather that it be considered as a supplemental tool.
How do these results come about? The researchers “note that depression is often associated with low levels of dopamine in the brain, and/or a low number of dopamine receptors. Previous research has found listening to music can increase dopamine levels.”
Another online article, “Effect of Classical Music on the Brain” written
by Silvia Francesca Maglione indicates that it is the melody and rhythm of classical music that affects the brain. The rhythm increases serotonin levels in the brain. Maglione explains that “serotonin is a neurotransmitter, involved in the transmission of nerve impulses that helps maintaining joyous feelings. When the brain produces serotonin, tension is eased. In fact depression is a consequence of the scarce production of this hormone. Serotonin is released when the brain is ‘positively shocked’.”
Classical music pops up in other non-depression related research; or maybe I should say non-human non-depression related research.
Psychology researchers in England played different styles of music to cows, and found that the bovines preferred Beethoven over Lynyrd Skynyrd and Shania Twain. When listening to the more mellow classical music, the cows produced up to 3 percent more milk per day. The researchers hypothesized that the slower beat of classical music lowered the cows’ stress levels and helped them to relax so that they let down their milk more easily.
In an article titled “How Do Plants React to Classical Music?” author Phillip Ginn describes several experiments performed to see how plants react to music, and often it was classical music that seemed to yield the most positive results. Researcher Dorothy Retallack tested to see what kinds of music plants “liked” based on how well they thrived.
She found that more mellow music produced better results. Plants actually turned toward the speakers of soothing music and moved away from speakers playing more raucous music. They preferred orchestral renditions of rock songs over the original versions of the same songs. In another experiment, classical Northern Indian music (featuring sitars and tabla) and Bach organ music were played and, while the plants liked both types of music, they seemed to prefer the Indian music. These discerning plants grew straggly and eventually died when exposed to rock music, and dissonant classical music didn’t fare much better.
And no research would be complete without lab rats. In tests where rats were given the option of going into boxes where classical music was being played and boxes with rock music, rats tended to choose the classical box. In another experiment, rats with more exposure to classical music performed better in mazes than rats that were exposed to other sounds or no sounds. At world-science.net an article titled “Do mice succumb to Mozart?" states that the rodent research is challenged by the observation that rats wouldn’t be able to hear most of the Mozart music used in the studies, as the pitches are too low.
I may have gotten off track a little here, since I haven’t really known any cows, plants or rats that suffered from depression, but the research is interesting nonetheless and does help bolster the notion that classical music does affect living things, and affects them to their benefit.
So as I sit here listening to a Vivaldi concerto on Pandora radio, I don’t have a clue as to what might be happening to my dopamine or serotonin levels, but I do know that I feel relaxed and content in this moment. And maybe my sickly bamboo plant will get a lift, too. I think I did, however, see it rocking out to Huey Lewis and the News the other day.
It’s pretty hip for a bamboo plant.