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Choose Wisely, Grasshopper

Can listening to certain kinds of music affect our performance at given activities? Are there genres, for instance, best suited to painting or driving or making love? Well—maybe. Probably. Decades of scientific back-and-forthing imply pretty strong connections, though some argue the jury’s still out.

Speaking of juries, there was a time not so long ago when families sued heavy metal bands for their kids’ suicides. The prosecution called all kinds of expert witnesses arguing direct links. Absurd, right? That’s some Thought Police bullsh*t.

On the other hand, the core of this notion does make some sense if we’re honest. Go to your music platform of choice and you’ll often find playlists organized by activities: spring cleaning playlists, breakup playlists, babymakers, workout jams, and ballads to fertilize your woe. Makes sense that, if ABBA might make us ovulate, a stint of Eminem might encourage aggressive driving.

Whether or not our music locks us into a particular course of action – say, killing ourselves, God-forbid – over which we have no agency, no control, is clearly questionable. Music’s influence on how we perform the task at hand, however, has become increasingly difficult to deny. It gets in our brains, makes us feel certain ways, affects our neurochemistry, even our bodies.

          Por que?

          Because dopamine.

That’s the pleasure chemical released during sex and backrubs and the like. We went into this in depth when we talked about music’s role in pain management, and music therapy. Basically, while it won’t directly mend a tib-fib fracture or close a cut, listening to pleasing music triggers dopamine, altering your headspace into a more relaxed state. This in turn helps your body soothe stress, which primes you for recovery, productivity, and other positive states. Music soothes the savage breast.

Of course it’s more complicated than that. The University of Central Florida and Mic each provide nifty infographics demonstrating how music doesn’t just sink in through the ears and elicit chemicals. “Sound,” of course, doesn’t exist without your ears and nervous system to interpret it. The tree doesn’t make “noise” per se if you’re not in the woods to hear it. Only waves of vibrating air molecules.

Now add you to the mix and we’re in the sound-making business. It takes just about every region of the brain to process those waves and make music of it.

And while we might feel actuated by some songs more than others when it comes to cultivating the right moods for sex or exercise or studying, neuroscientist Kiminobu Sugaya argues that particular genres don’t necessarily light up different parts of the brain.

Our scientists strongly disagree. The premise is simple: If you want your music to stimulate your logical thinking brain, or your emotional baseline brain, the kind of music – its constituent elements – will have to differ.

We start with the auditory cortex, on the outside left side of the brain, which collaborates with your cerebellum, way in the back, to break the music down the sounds in what we might call a critical or analytical way. Lyrics, rhythm, tone. The mechanics.

But far deeper, in more ancient areas of the brain, a song really burrows. We’re talking about the amygdala, in the “lizard brain,” the part that triggers fight or flight responses, and governs purely emotional responses. As the violinist Ayako Yonetani puts it, “When you feel shivers go down your spine, the amygdala is activated.”

We can track, to a significant degree, the actual maneuvering of music through the brain, the parts it calls upon, the bits that light up. There is a vast difference between music that will improve your party, for example, and that which will help you focus when that’s what you need.

If you need to focus on writing or coding or creating art, then you want your limbic (“lizard”) brain to listen passively – not actively process – in accordance with the brainwave cycles and your particular brain type, freeing up the cerebral areas for maximum concentration. Far as we know, only Focus@Will provides precisely that kind of music. Check out our channels, find one that works for your brain type, and keep in touch with us about your success. Visit focus@will.com today to dive into the perfect music for your brain type.

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