Many different ancient cultures shared the common belief that music can have positive effects on our mental and physical health, giving rise to the idea of music therapy. The therapeutic effect of music was usually attributed to social and cultural causes, until the scientific basis for modern medicine was established around the 1900s. Since then, the concept of music therapy has progressed from having no scientific basis to serious neuroscientific research.
According to researcher Jonathan Burdette, professor and vice chairman of research at Wake Forest School of Medicine, everyone’s favourite music has a similar effect on our brains, regardless of the type of music. Any genre, whether classical, pop, rock, etc. can elicit the same response. Burdette and his team used fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) to map the brain activity of 21 subjects by studying changes in blood flow. Brain scans were made while they listened to music they liked and disliked from 5 genres (classical, country, rap, rock, Chinese opera) as well as their personal favourite song.
The fMRI scans produced a consistent result where the effect on brain connectivity depended on the subject’s preference rather than the type of music they listened to. The greatest impact was on the default mode network, a brain circuit known to participate in internally focused thought, empathy and self-awareness. This circuit was poorly connected when listening to music they disliked, however the connection improved when listening to music they liked, and the best results were shown when listening to their favourites. Listening to favourite songs also improved the connectivity between the brain area specialised in hearing and brain regions responsible for memory and social emotion.