The Music That You are Listening to is Impacting Your Mental Health


How you regulate your emotions is one of the most important factors of your mental health; clinical music therapists have long known about the power of music on human emotions. Music therapists use music in their sessions to improve their clients’ mood, and even to help them relieve symptoms of mood disorders like depression. But people listen to music every day, and there was not much known about how their music listening habits affected their mental health.

A study conducted at the Centre for Interdisciplinary Music Research at the University of Jyväskylä, Aalto University in Finland and Aarhus University in Denmark was done to establish the link between your music listening habits, your mental health and your neural responses to the different types of music through a combination of behavioural and neuroimaging data.

Rumination – continually brooding over negative things –  as a way of coping with negative emotion, has been linked to poor mental health. The scientists wanted to find out if listening to certain styles of music could have a similar negative effect on a persons mental health.

Study participants were first assessed on their mental health markers like depression, anxiety and neuroticism and were asked on how they usually listen to the music to regulate their emotions. After their data was analysed, researchers found out that people who usually listened to sad or aggressive music were more anxious and neurotic. This stood out particularly in the male members of the study participants. The researchers came to the conclusion that listening to negative music results in the expression of these negative feelings, but it doesn’t get you in a better mood. So they decided to investigate what the brain’s unconscious emotion regulation will show, and recorded the participants’ neural activity with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) while they were listening to music that was happy, sad and fearful sounding.

mPFC area in general linear model analysis showed significant activity on neural activation during music listening (Image credits: University of Helsinki/B.Bogert)

Females who listened to the music to distract them from negative feelings showed increased activity in the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC), while males listening to the music with negative feelings had less activity in the mPFC. This is relevant because the mPFC is active during emotion regulation and study shows the link between certain styles of music and the activation of the medial prefrontal cortex. This could mean that some styles of music can have a long lasting effect on the brain and mental health overall.

The study was published the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.