If you want music to help you but refuse to stop smoking pot, perhaps you can at least remember where you put your car keys. Or, more applicably, if you have Alzheimer's it could help you remember pieces of your past.
Medical practitioners have found that music shows the potential to unearth memories associated with music for patients, even ones in late stages of dementia. So if you had your first kiss to the dulcet tones of Jefferson Starship, their terrible, terrible music could bring that memory right back for you.
How Does it Work?
Listening to music engages many areas of the brain in both hemispheres, which is why it can create brain activity other methods, like conversation, can't. Another area it engages is the hippocampus, which would be a hilarious name for a school for aquatic mammals but in reality is the less impressive region of the brain which handles long-term memory storage.
When you listen to music you know, feelings associated with the song are returned by the hippocampus. Sometimes the memories even manage to come along with the relevant feelings, so hopefully no music was playing the first time anyone ever kicked you in the junk. Even if memories aren't recovered, emotions and attitudes are, allowing people who can't even remember who they are from day to day or why they loathe the FOX network so much to at least laugh and sing along with off key hopefuls on American Idol.
If only there were some way to make yourself seem smarter without working. Oh, wait, there is. Mozart music, especially piano music, can raise your spatial reasoning the equivalent of nine IQ points. And that's an average, meaning there are people who get even more of a boost from it. That's over half a standard deviation or the difference between being Leonardo DiCaprio in What's Eating Gilbert Grape or Leonardo DiCaprio in Titanic. Sure, you're not winning a Nobel Prize either way, but it's still a noticeable difference.
How Does it Work?
There are a lot of theories, but some claim that Mozart's music focuses the listener more, like how if you're in the midst of your sixth hour of questing in World of Warcraft you can still rain holy hell down on Hogger as long as you're listening to Ace of Spades. Others say it increases activity in crucial regions of the brain and a few industrious types say "who cares why it works, how can we make money off of this?"
At this point, you may be asking, "Sure, music can fix my brain, but can it fix my body?" which would indicate you expect entirely too much from iTunes. No amount of power ballads is going to cure your heartburn or trim a few pounds off anyone's overly-gelatinous ass. However, if you have Parkinson's disease, it just might be able to help. Victims of Parkinson's suffer from muscle spasms, locking muscles, balance problems and sketchy scientists with kick ass time machines. As it turns out, applying music can instantly resolve the physical issues of Parkinson's in many victims.
Take Rande Gedaliah, who was diagnosed with Parkinson's in 2003 and found she had muscle spasms, balance problems and difficulty walking. The disease eventually led to a serious fall in the shower. Things were looking pretty grim until one day she found out she could listen to music and suddenly be able to move with ease, the type of music determining the speed she walks at. We Are the Champions let her walk a slow clip and Born in the USA made her move faster still. Anything by Nickelback sent her spiraling into a rage.
Ancient warriors listened to their Nickelback equivalent, thrashing and scraping bones on rocks,
to produce a similar effect before combat.
How Does it Work?
When you're locked in your room, listening to your old N'Sync CDs, have you ever noticed your foot tapping on its own? That's not just because you have terrible taste in music. It's because the portions of the brain which deal with rhythm and movement are so automated that it requires no conscious attention to move to a beat. It's like your brain going behind your back to get things done because it knows it can't rely on you to bust an appropriate move when you hear "Bye Bye Bye."
This movement isn't handled by the same process as walking up the stairs or hilariously farting with your armpit. Suddenly, patients with bradykinesia--an inability to initiate movement--can move instantly as their brain interprets the music and sends movement signals to their legs, essentially tricking their bodies into moving. We'll say that again for you: Music can trick your broken, unresponsive body into obedience. Think about it: How many times have you thrown your hands in the air? When that happened, did you just not care? Science says that's because you had no control.
Music also helps other Parkinson's-related issues, including loss of balance and spasms. It's also been found that playing music creates an improvement in people with the disease, and drum circles are being used as treatment in music therapy groups, presumably because drums are cheaper than fancy-ass medical equipment, anyway.
When hippies become doctors.
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For more things science is scratching its head about, check out 6 Things Your Body Does Every Day That Science Can't Explain. Or find out why you should punch your body right now, in Your Body Hates You: 6 Gruesome Disorders Anyone Can Get.
And stop by our Top Picks (Updated 2.5.2010) to see how music affects us in our pants.