Mood Music: How music affects our brains and bodies


Claire Redinger

Music affects both our bodies and minds, impacting our physical and emotional well-being. Graphic by Claire Redinger/The Gateway.

Every year, in the lull between Thanksgiving and Christmas, I am listening to one genre – and one genre only. Much to the dismay of those trying to spread peace and joy, this genre does not include holly jolly anything and it’s not fall-la-la-la festive either.

From Black Friday to the end of the semester – a.k.a. finals season –  I listen exclusively to the angstiest alternative rock in my music library.


Cage the Elephant, The Neighbourhood, The Technicolors – these guys become the soundtrack to my life as I frantically type papers, coordinate group projects, pound the coffee and tell myself “keep going, you’re almost done.”

I’m not the only one who has their own dead week/finals playlist at the ready, however. A Gateway Instagram poll conducted on Nov. 29 found that 91% of poll respondents said they listen to certain genres at certain times. In addition, users responded to the open-ended question “What kind of music, if any, do you listen to during dead week and finals week?” with broad answers including “folk,” “hype music,” “classical,” or “lo-fi hip hop beats,” and more specific answers like “Tame Impala,” “early 2000s rock and Flo Milli” and “pump up songs like ‘Candy’ by Robbie Williams and ‘Like a Girl by Lizzo.’”

Data was collected through a poll on The Gateway’s Instagram story on Nov. 29. Graphic by Claire Redinger/The Gateway.

For me, listening to music as aggressive and stress-inducing as I feel is comforting. For others, Lizzo or lo-fi keeps students feeling focused. So, why do we each turn to certain genres in order to feel motivated, relaxed or happy? What is it exactly about music – regardless of the genre – that affects each of us?

According to Psychology Today, “music often creates strong action tendencies to move in coordination with the music.” This means that when we like a song, we might tap our feet or sing along. In addition, “our internal rhythms (e.g., heart rate) speed up or slow down to become one with the music.”

In addition, the same Psychology Today article states that “music is a powerful emotional stimulus that changes our relationship with time,” as music takes our attention away from counting the minutes and hours.

So, as I’m listening to “Kathleen” by Catfish and The Bottlemen during finals week, my fingers are typing along to the beat, the quick tempo of the tune is matching my already elevated heart rate, and I’m too focused to notice that several hours have gone by.

But the effects of music on our minds and bodies don’t stop there. According to the Atlanta Institute of Music and Media, “music can release dopamine in two main places in the brain, the dorsal and ventral striatum.” Dopamine, to put it very simply, is released by our brains and stimulates feelings of happiness and satisfaction. Dopamine can make us feel more motivated and improve our moods.

In addition, it appears that listeners are aware of these musical mood changes: The Gateway’s poll found that 70/72 responders voted “yes” when asked if they thought music affected their mood.

Data was collected through a poll on The Gateway’s Instagram story on Nov. 29. Graphic by Claire Redinger/The Gateway.

Music can also improve physical health, so much so that music can be used as a form of therapy. Healthline references a 2015 study in The Lancet that “found that people who listened to music before, during or after surgery experienced less pain and anxiety, compared to patients who did not listen to music. The music listeners didn’t even need as much pain medication.”