Music as therapy is widely known -- the rhythms and melodies have been rehabilitative, helping treat many conditions. Music has also been proven to have an effect on memory, an important factor for those who study while listening to music. Different types of music, however, may have varying degrees of effectiveness on memory depending on musical taste.
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Music and the Brain
Research has shown that you can improve your ability to perform spatial tasks, such as putting together a jigsaw puzzle, by listening to music. The reason is that listening to music primes the brain to think spatially, but this improvement in spatial thinking only lasts for a short period after the music stops. Classical music in particular has been shown to open neural pathways more effectively than other types of music by preparing the brain to solve spatial problems.
An experiment that Frances Rauscher, a psychologist, conducted at the University of California at Irvine, in 1993, found that listening to classical music could improve memory. This phenomenon ultimately came to be called the Mozart Effect, as the music used in the experiment was written by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. In the experiment, students listened to a Mozart sonata, a relaxation tape or silence. Immediately after listening, the researchers gave the students a test meant to measure memory. The results indicated that those who listened to Mozart had better memory retention, although this musical memory boost only lasted for up to 15 minutes.
Music and Memory
A 2007 study that the researchers at Stanford University conducted looked at images of subjects' brains captured on an MRI machine while they listened to music, with the researchers watching which parts of the brain were engaged while listening to music. The results of this experiment indicated that music engages those areas of the brain that contribute to the human attention span. Most interestingly, the researchers found that peak brain activity occurred during a short period of silence between musical movements.
The memory-enhancing power of music is not limited to classical music. A 2006 Glasgow Caledonian University study monitored the brain activity of a group of volunteers who performed a simple memory test while listening to rock and classical music. The researchers found that classical music improved the memory in both classical music fans and rock fans, while rock music enhanced the memory of rock fans only. From this data, researchers extrapolated that listening to any kind of music can aid memory, provided it's a type of music you enjoy.
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- Stanford School of Medicine; Music Move Brain to Pay Attention, Stanford Study Says; Mitzi Baker; August 2007
- Live Science; Music-Memory Connection Found in Brain; Jeremy Hsu; February 2009
- "The Sunday Times"; Rock Music Boosts Your Brain Power; Camillo Fracassini; September 2006