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Music, the mind and behavior

SHARE   |   Sunday, 06 July 2014   |   By Tagadzikana Majuta
Music, the mind and behavior

We live in an age where various forms of music exist, from the inspiring to the annoying, the uplifting to the depressing and everything else in between.  But the question is; is music a neutral factor in the development of human behavior and attitudes? The answer lies in the mind.

Our body is a truly fascinating machine both in the manner in which it is made and the way it functions. One of the most important organs we possess is the brain, a sit for consciousness and decision making. Most of what we do and say has already been decided in our brains in an area known as the frontal cortex.  We process information in this area of the brain. You decide to propose to a girl in this region.  All musings regarding whether you should wake up and go to work on a chilly winter morning as is in this winter  are done here. You reason, debate and meditate from this area. In a nutshell, all important decisions about your life are birthed or buried here. And then there is another area called the hippocampus, sometimes known as the pleasure centre. This structure is part of a brain system called the limbic system. All that has to do with emotions, memory, learning and motivation is integrated here. This is very significant.

Music is known by those who have studied the human brain, neurologists and physicists, to mostly bypass the frontal cortex and head straight to the pleasure centre.  In other words, before you know it you are tapping your feet to a tune that just happened to be playing on the radio even without taking a conscious decision to do so.  Even more debilitating, music induces significant emotional response with very little logical or moral interpretation. Depending on the tempo of the song you might be listening to your heart rate, blood pressure or mood might change, or depending on the the lyrics of the song your thoughts may either be elevated or just descend into moral degeneracy. In the long run the sum of your thoughts, mood, behavior and learning ability will owe to some degree to the type of music you have been listening to. There is no shortage of observations and research where it has been demonstrated that music has influenced the behavior, mood as well as learning abilities of individuals. Take for an example gangster groups and the music they immerse their minds to, it usually promotes violence and is sexually explicit in nature and right there in sync with their criminal behavior. One member from one of the notorious Mexican drug cartels confessed that before they go out to commit a murder, they listen to some gangster rap music to ‘strengthen’   them to carry out those gruesome killings we often hear about. Furthermore take your average young person today, they listen to hip hop, R & B, pop and other genres whose main themes are mostly about sex, partying and drinking and we see a correlation with the behavior they display.

Music is such a powerful factor in human development. It carries with it messages both in subliminal codes, plain lyrics and instrumentals. You do not usually think when you are listening to music, you mostly feel, and likely to take impulsive actions. It feeds the mind information that induces thoughts and emotions which, if left unchecked, ultimately contributes to molding of behavior.

Music has also been shown to affect learning. Certain types of music stimulate the brain in a way that improves its cognitive abilities, for example classical music. This kind of music is complex and non repetitive in nature hence stimulates the brain by causing it to form new neuronal pathways and neurons in what is referred to as neurogenesis. An experiment was actually done where a number of individuals were exposed to classical music and were later found to have improvements in their spatial reasoning and IQ’s. On the other hand, music with repetitive structures and simple in nature offered little as to brain stimulation. These types of music are similar to what you hear mostly as products from the music industry. The main culprits include kwaito, house, hip hop, rock and roll etc. There is usually nothing intelligible or noble in these types of music, except for repetition and a few lyrics exalting sensuality. I am often appalled by the choice of songs that our young kids are allowed to sing in our local talent searching shows such as my star. Adult songs being sung by children who have no idea what love or sex are. Should we then be surprised about their behavior today when they engage in premarital sex, getting pregnant and becoming a headache to most parents?  I’m convinced that if conducted right music can positively influence our lives especially those of our youth. I believe if our artists could spend time in their studios being creative and thoughtful then better and more educating music will be produced. And I’m also persuaded that parents can also do better by paying more attention to what their kids are listening to, discouraging the degenerate and promoting the elevating.

Let us listen to good music, with a message and with good instrumentals.  Let us avoid the loud, chaotic and sensual; it only strengthens the already strong inordinate passions raging within us with destructive effects on our learning abilities and mental health.