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The soundtrack to your mind

Oct 22, 2019
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Plato’s words may have been formed over 2000 years ago, long before the technology was available to either prove or falsify them; but it turns out the great philosopher was onto something. Music has the incredible capacity to affect how we think, feel and learn – stimulating the brain in all manner of different ways.

A job… a relationship… an experience… a certain period of time – the chapters of our lives all have a soundtrack; we just don’t know it at the time. It comes to us some years later when that song begins to play and you’re transported back to days gone by, feeling exactly as you did then. There’s more to this phenomena than simple nostalgia: the very act of listening to music lights up the brain’s visual cortex and immediately your mind’s eye drifts to the memories or images you associate with the sound. For most it’s a pleasant experience, not only due to the recollection of fond memories, but because the act of listening to music triggers a release of the feel-good chemical, dopamine, from the brain.
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The positive effects that music can bring to an individual are clear (happiness and nostalgia for instance) but what’s truly remarkable is how it’s helping those suffering from mental illnesses such as Alzheimer’s disease. Music has the power to unlock memories and reach parts of the damaged brain that are otherwise inaccessible – a power that remains throughout the aging process and withstands the adverse impact of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. We’re musically receptive long before our other senses truly develop, and as this is the first thing we’re truly conscious of, it’s the last thing to leave us near the end – making it an incredibly effective escape for those who’ve lost much of their own consciousness.

Not only is music an incredible way to unlock information from the past, it’s also a tremendously effective method of learning new information. Gus Halwani, co-founder of the neurophysiology department at Harvard University, researched the way electrical signals are sent between the left and right sides of the brain, looking specifically at the differences between musicians and non-musicians. He investigated the main pathway in the brain, the arcuate fasciculus (AF), and found that non-musicians had a far smaller AF than their counterparts, while vocalists had the biggest AF of all. The rationale behind the finding is that there’s a huge amount of activity between the left and right sides of the brain as you learn to play, and like any other part of the body, the more you use it, the stronger it gets. Interestingly, the AF works harder than ever when singing. This is because the left and right sides of the brain deal with words and music respectively, so both are constantly sending electrical signals via the AF –thus increasing its size and effectiveness.

The ways in which music impacts the brain are plentiful, and that’s why it’s become such a prominent component of the marketing strategies of many of the world’s leading brands. The emotional, nostalgic response evoked by music makes it an obvious way to connect with a buying audience – as is clear from the sentimental songs so often heard in high-profile Christmas and holiday campaigns. The genre also makes a huge difference, as an Australian study measured the impact a series of audio clips had on 1,000 people, and found that different melodies, keys and notes evoked wildly differing emotional responses – from calm and serenity, to happiness and excitement. It means the type of music used throughout a promotional campaign can have a real, lasting impact on the feelings consumers associate with businesses.

Every brand has a different story to tell and a different way they want to make their audience feel – and music is one of the most powerful ways to achieve it. This is why at PHMG, our award-winning Composers create an exclusive track for each client, tailored to who they are and the values they hold. Not only does the track represent the brand, it can evoke an emotional response from the consumer – creating a connection that only gets stronger with every listen.