The world is chock full of ear hurt that some people willingly refer to as music. The Jonas Brothers, Lady Gaga, Conway Twitty; they all produce high quality records and 8-tracks for our enjoyment whether we like it or not.
But music--even terrible music--has a stunning amount of power over our bodies. For instance science says music can...
Slapping neuroscience right across the face, music is able to take stroke, lesion or other brain-damaged patients who have lost the partial ability to see or speak and return it to them. The Kenny Rogers Effect--not named because it deals with gorging yourself on chicken or replacing your old, grandfatherly face with a shiny new rubber one--takes patients with visual neglect, the inability to recognize half of what they see, and lightens the effects of the damage. Patients who only shave half their face or grab for the right boob at a strip club can now put that dollar bill in the left or right side of her thong. The Gambler never stops being awesome.
As long as she's dancing to Kenny Rogers...
Patients with left-side brain damage who can no longer speak can find they are able to sing words, often without trouble or training. After that, it's just a matter of time before they're able to speak simple sentences with practice. That may not sound like much, but if you've ever tried to order a side of fries with left-hand only charades you'll understand what a blessing this can be.
How Does it Work?
Melodic intonation therapy, or singing until you can talk, takes advantage of the fact that language functions are located in the left brain, but music lives over on the right side of the brain. So, when that asshole stroke robs you of your ability to speak, you can train your brain to move those functions to the other side by associating music with language. This essentially rewires a lifetime of growth and an entire history of evolution into meaninglessness interpretations of random head noises from a guy who hasn't shaved his beard since the 70s.
Listening to actual non-terrible music has an additional effect, since pleasurable music releases dopamine that simply makes certain parts of your brain function better (particularly if they were damaged before).
Dopamine is your brain's natural crack
In a nutshell, music gives your brain a massage and fills it with happy chemicals, turning you from a one-eyed mute into an Island in the Stream.
As it turns out, performing music can be relaxing and can create a distraction from withdrawal symptoms; songwriting can help patients confront impulse control and self-deception and allows an output for negative emotions; hence the entire songbook of Raffi.
It has even been found that listening to music can help aid the detox stage of recovery from drug addiction, and if applied frequently could cut down on the number of pain-killers patients need. Indeed, it turns out GWAR may be just as helpful as Percocet.
How Does it Work?
Music directly affects chemicals called neurotransmitters which relay information in our head. Drugs work in a similar way, except they make your brain lazy and convince it to stop making its own chemicals, because why do work when sweet China White is there to making everything all better? But when you stop taking drugs, your brain isn't making enough chemicals and it doesn't know why because it relies on those drugs to get enough, so your body fails to function correctly and you turn into Joaquin Phoenix.
Introducing music can increase levels of some chemicals associated with heavy addictions, like dopamine and norepinephrine, but significantly cuts back on suzziness and the willingness to give blowjobs for your next fix. In addition, certain music lowers things like heart rate, blood pressure, muscle tension, etc., that make you feel like killing everybody around you.
Apparently the fact that half of the world's rock stars still wind up dead from overdoses despite music's addiction-breaking qualities is a testament to just how much those guys fucking love doing drugs.
It may come as no surprise to all the Cracked readers who are also neuroscientists that music helps boost your immune system. For the rest of you, word is that intangible plinking noises can create a noticeable increase in recovery from a wide range of conditions, including heart disease, lung ailments and even the common cold. While the field of study is still young compared to fancy "real medicine" like "pharmaceuticals" and "penis phrenology" it turns out that sometimes all you need to overcome your horribly debilitating illness is AC/DC.
How Does it Work?
Music, like Jurassic Park's raptors, doesn't just attack from one side. That shit brings out a multi-pronged assault. To start, music reduces stress by reducing cortisol levels, a chemical in your brain that causes you to feel stress in the first place. Jazz, bluegrass and soft rock have been found to be especially effective at reducing stress and increasing health because of their similar musical qualities (that quality being that you don't listen to any of them).
If you're wondering if your favorite music is helping your health, a good question to ask is, "Does this music make me want to riot?" If you answered yes, it's not an optimal medicine. Likewise, if your favorite musician's last name is Cyrus you're probably dooming yourself to a life of erectile dysfunction and diabetes.
In addition to simply lowering stress levels, music also raises immune markers in your system, creating more antibodies to fight disease. Ironically, listening to Amy Winehouse could make you immune to all the potential diseases you'd be exposed to if you met Amy Winehouse. This effect is compounding: Over time, the body can learn to recognize certain types of music (particularly choir or classical music) as immune boosting, continuing the improvement of the immune system. As an added bonus, if you listen to choir music on a regular basis you're almost guaranteed to be immune to STDs as the odds of you ever having sex are quite slim.
Good news: If you're not one of those 150 suckers who get seizures from music, you may be one of the luckier ones who benefit from decreased seizure activity as a result of listening to music. This effect has even been observed in coma patients. Bet you feel better about being in a coma now.
It's been shown that music by Mozart played on the piano reduces seizure-causing activity in the brain within five minutes of exposure, with many cases showing immediate results in what scientists should called Seizure Wolfgang-banging. Experimentation with other forms of music has been minimal, but for some reason there appears to be a connection between our brains and piano music.
How Does it Work?
It's theorized that "the superorganization of the cerebral cortex . . . may resonate with the superior architecture of Mozart's music" which is a sciencey way of saying that probably Mozart gets all up in your brain in ways the Hamburger Helper jingle only wishes it could. Really though, this is another one of those medical shrug moments, as scientists really haven't figured it out yet. Kind of unfulfilling, isn't it?
"Mozart music hits a certain part of... There's a connection between the structure and a brain's...
You see, with brain music... Oh fuck you, it just works OK?"