The statement that “The evidence is clear — playing a musical instrument or listening to music can positively affect brain health and function. … Music can improve mood, increase intelligence, enhance learning and concentration, and ward off the effects of brain aging…” makes an intriguing invitation to indulge in music. If you want to be smarter, more relaxed, healthier and happier than you are, indulge in some musical activities. Every known culture throughout history has had music in its background, and for good reason. Music causes the brain to make more “I feel happy” dopamine and serotonin chemicals than it had before the music started.
Recreational therapists know that people with Alzheimer’s or other mental health disabilities respond remarkably well to music. Listeners bounce, smile, and laugh as they enjoy the audible input. There’s a good reason for that: Music is a motivator. It brings back happy memories and a sense of fun. The beat lets people express their emotions. Babies, children, and adults of all ages express ideas, work off anxiety, or act on their happiness when they move to music by swaying, dancing, hopping, skipping, or jumping. The result is increased happiness, thoughtfulness, or perhaps a gained insight. But don’t let that limit you. Other aspects of the arts are brain-enhancers, too.
Theatrical productions (stage and movies) light up the socially aware parts of our brain. There’s even scientific evidence that an audience’s brain waves synchronize at live concerts. Concerts can be quite the shared experience.
Literature lovers know that their minds go on full power when they read poetry. Something called functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) has proven that reading or hearing poems activates the parts of our brain that help us to understand and to appreciate different aspects of everyday life.
Other tests of human brains prove that different regions respond to fiction and to non-fiction when we read verbs and adjectives, or ponder the action in the story. Think of your brain as a simulator, and you can pretty much figure out what’s going on up there; you’ve entered other people’s emotions and thinking processes. The vicarious experience lets a reader learn from someone else’s life without having to risk any harm.
When it comes to quality of life issues, think of the benefits about how the arts can improve your mind. Music and literature stimulate empathy, predictive processes, and even intelligence.
Sculpture and paintings bring an intensity to human minds and emotions. Christopher Tyler, director of the Smith-Kettlewell Brain Imaging Center, has remarked that art is involved with ”… some of the most advanced processes of human intuitive analysis and expressivity and a key form of aesthetic appreciation is through embodied cognition, the ability to project oneself as an agent in the depicted scene.” In brief, that vicarious experience is quite meaningful to us mortals. We live through an “as if I’m there” experience without any risks to our well-being, and we benefit from the life lessons we gain that way.
The next time that you feel like teasing someone who enjoys the arts, reconsider how the arts can improve your mind. You might be wiser to sit down with them, and to share the experience.