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How does music clear your mind?

Author: The Simple Bit

Category: Science

The Clear Mind experiment provides different music options to allow people to achieve their own personal version of calm focus. So why is music so personal? And what does it do to our minds exactly? We asked Tan-Chyuan Chin, a Senior Research Fellow at the University of Melbourne.

The simple bits:

  • Music has a capacity to evoke emotions
  • Music affects us differently based on things like culture and subjective tastes
  • It can be used to help relax and focus us
  • Some people find death metal relaxing. Obviously.
  • There is a choice of music in the Clear Mind Experiment (but no death metal)

If you’ve already taken The Clear Mind Experiment (wait…you haven’t? Go do it! Now!) then you’ll notice that there were three choices of sound – nature sounds, contemporary relaxing music and a classical piece. Because of the highly personal nature of our music preferences, Dr Jo and the team at The Mind Room felt strongly that we needed to provide options to allow people to achieve their own personal version of calm focus.

So why is music so personal? And what does it do to our minds exactly? We asked Tan-Chyuan Chin, a Senior Research Fellow at the University of Melbourne. Tan is a ‘well-being scientist’ who is trained in music psychology. “I’m very passionate about understanding ways to help and support people to thrive in life,” says Tan. “And music is a very powerful tool that we all can have in our lives to be able to help us achieve the outcomes that we would like to have.”



So Tan, why is music so powerful?

“Music is really powerful because of its capacity to actually evoke emotions, and emotion is actually linked with memories and all of your life experiences and, therefore, music has a very strong influence on different aspects of our life. And in particular, apart from meeting emotional needs, it is also sometimes described as a ‘social glue’. So how you relate to other people, how you create the atmosphere that you want at a gathering.”

How does music affect our minds?

“So, music affects each one of us quite differently. But generally, there are some underlying mechanisms in terms of how we can kind of be in sync with the music that we choose. You may be aware of how some athletes listen to music just before they go into competition or for artists before they go into a performance, and they have this curated playlist where it gets them into rehearsing what they are going to be doing through mental imagery. Those are techniques that sports psychologists use to help athletes improve their performance.”

What about more broadly – can music even have physical effects on us?

“If you wanted to improve your physical well-being and you’re out at the gym and you’re struggling after 20 minutes like I do on the treadmill, then you may put on some music just to amp up and increase your endurance. Or because you’re enjoying the music, your body is in sync with the beat and the tempo and the rhythm and all of that, that keeps you going for longer. So that’s just one example of how music could be used to improve your physical wellbeing.”

Ok I’m in. What should I load onto my iPod?

“It’s interesting because it really depends on the intention of how you’re going to use the music. So if your intention is to, for example, focus on a particular task, then you may pick a very different piece of music to when you feel really angry, and you just want to release that because it can be quite cathartic. Or you want to listen to a piece of really sad music and then that kind of sort of release through a very, very safe medium such as music is great, because it allows you to kind of put yourself in a very optimum frame of mind.”

So it doesn’t affect us all the same way then?

“Music doesn’t affect us all in the same way because we are very much shaped by a lot of life experiences, and there are a lot of other factors that actually do need to be considered when we talk about either music listening or someone’s experience with music. Because things like significant life events, political, cultural factors, all of that do influence how someone experiences music, and also their music preferences. So what could be calming for me could be really annoying for you.

For some people, it could well be death metal. I do have friends in Finland and Norway, where heavy metal, death metal, is their preference.”

What’s ‘The Mozart Effect?’ and is it for real?

“That can be attributed to this piece of research that was published in Nature many years ago. It’s called the Mozart Effect. And so what that particular study actually found was that if you did listen to music composed by Mozart because that’s what they used, you actually performed better in the subsequent spatial task.

However, a lot of other studies have tried to replicate and see how that actually stands up. They’ve used music by Blur, they’ve used other genres of music, they’ve even used a novel. So it’s reading without music. And what they did find is if you enjoy the music of Blur, or you enjoy the novel, you are as likely to do well in the spatial task afterwards. So it’s not just the Mozart Effect. And so in a way that has kind of been debunked.”

What do you want to find from the Clear Mind Experiment?

“There are a couple of factors. I think the top one would probably be autonomy, giving people choice about what type of music that they would like to use, what type of background in terms of nature and maybe if they would like to have fluffy puppies or kittens in there.”

take the clear mind experiment again

ok then, clear my mind