How to Use Music to Boost Motivation, Mood & Improve Learning | Huberman Lab Podcast

How to Use Music to Boost Motivation, Mood & Improve Learning | Huberman Lab Podcast

Music & Your Brain (00:00:00)

  • Music is a neurological phenomenon and can activate nearly every part of the brain.
  • Music can be leveraged to shift our brain states and bodily states, even affecting our emotions and mood.
  • Different types of music have the ability to activate different neural circuits in our brain.
  • Listening to music contributes to our perception of that music by activating relevant neurons in our brain.
  • Music can also enhance learning and memory and increase brain plasticity.
  • It's better to listen to music in between bouts of work or during brief rest periods rather than while working.

The Brain Body Contract (00:03:32)

  • Three live events regarding science and related tools for mental health, physical health, and performance will be hosted in Australia.

Music & Emotions; Brain & Body Interpretation (00:07:09)

  • Unlike language, music is unable to describe physical items like a glass or a face. However, it excels at conveying and invoking emotions and feelings.
  • It is believed that music and singing evolved before spoken language.
  • Music has a profound ability to evoke empathy and generate emotions with increased nuance.
  • Music can even affect physical sensations. For instance, listening to certain music can evoke a feeling akin to the change of seasons.
  • Our body's neurons respond to music's frequencies, effectively making our body an instrument playing along to the music. This interaction contributes to the evocation and range of emotions we can experience from music.

Music & Intent; Babies, Music & Movement (00:13:03)

  • Music has the power to explain in nuanced ways, evoke emotions within us, and imply intent.
  • A noticeable example is the difference between the drumming of war drums, implying aggression or seriousness, compared with a different frequency of sound that is less clear in its intent.
  • This comparison represents two distinct emotional states potentially experienced by the listener.
  • Spoken language can also convey intent and emotion, but music differs as it involves the body sensing the intent as well, not just the ears.
  • This involvement of the body induces the listener to feel the need to move or respond to the music.
  • The neural circuits involved in the bodily reaction to music are not tied to cognitive understanding or empathy for an emotion, but can result in movement due to pre-motor circuits - neurons that fire before a particular set of actions are generated.
  • This connection between music and body movement is innate, not learned, as evidenced by studies of how babies respond to music.
  • Baby response, including rhythmic movements of their limbs and torso, show that certain frequencies of sound cause different physical reactions.
  • Babies dancing before being instructed how to do so indicates the brain's neural circuits that respond to musical sound are closely connected to the body's neural circuits that generate movement.
  • This relationship between music and movement is key when considering music's impact on motivation.

Tool: Health Metrics & Music, Breathing & Heart Rate (00:19:19)

  • Music stimulates the nervous system and the body, generating emotions, intent, and action within us.
  • Recent studies show that music can significantly impact our health metrics by affecting our blood pressure and resting heart rate.
  • Several analyses confirm that listening to 10 to 30 minutes of our favored music per day can decrease our resting heart rate and increase our heart rate variability. This shows a higher engagement of our parasympathetic nervous system, which slows down our heart rate and breathing, promoting relaxation and calmness.
  • The increase in heart rate variability is observed not only during the listening period but also continuously throughout the day, even during sleep. Thus, listening to music daily is beneficial for mental and physical health.
  • A recent meta-analysis titled "Effects of Music on the cardiovascular system" reveals that the positive impact of music on our physiology is most likely provoked by changes in our breathing patterns. This occurs even when individuals are not singing along with the music.
  • When consciously inhaling and exhaling, heart rate increases and decreases respectively because of a phenomenon called respiratory sinus arrhythmia. This is a process where the heart expands when we inhale, causing the blood volume in the heart to move slowly, and contracts when we exhale, causing the blood volume to move quickly.
  • While neuroscience assumed that music interacts directly with the heart rate, studies prove that subconscious changes in our breathing patterns occur when listening to music. These changes further influence our heart rate due to the phenomenon of respiratory sinus arrhythmia.
  • Music is a powerful tool that communicates and evokes emotions, intent, and influences our physiological responses subconsciously. It can increase heart rate variability, which is beneficial for everyone, by modifying our breathing patterns.
  • Hence, a straightforward protocol to positively impact mental and physical health is to listen to our favorite music for 10 to 30 minutes or even more every day.

Music, Brain & Predictions (00:30:50)

  • Music has a powerful effect at evoking different physiological responses within the brain and body.
  • It can also be a potent tool to increase motivation because of how it stimulates pre-motor and motor circuits, which are in charge of moving our bodies from one state or position to another.
  • Listening to music stimulates a broad range of neural circuits, not just generally but in specific ways that result in very specific responses in both the brain and body.
  • Activating these neural circuits through music can influence motivation.
  • The frontal cortex of the brain, which plays a role in guiding appropriate behaviors depending on the context, is activated when we listen to music.
  • This area of the brain is also effective at making predictions, i.e., it analyzes "if this, then that" situations, which comes into play when listening to music; it predicts what we are likely to hear next based on what we heard before.

Music & Brain: Novelty, Arousal, Memories (00:38:07)

  • One key quality of music is its capacity to trigger surprise or delight through the release of dopamine, a neuromodulator. This happens when there is a change in the music that was not expected.
  • When listening to music, there's high activation of the prediction machinery in your brain as well as the brain's circuits that recognize novelty.
  • Activation in various brain areas occurs when listening to music, including the amygdala, which is linked with becoming more alert and more aware of the specific sensory stimuli present, such as musical notes.
  • Music also triggers brain regions such as the para hippocampal formation, cortex, and the hippocampus, which are responsible for storing memories. Music can evoke powerful memories and emotions, often stronger than other experiences might.
  • Overall, the activation of these different brain areas through music leads to creating different components of the experience of music.

Tool: Movement; Motivation & Faster Music (00:44:22)

  • Music activates specific circuits within the brain that prompt certain emotions or actions, including motivation and movement.
  • The basal ganglia, which is associated with initiating and withholding actions, and the cerebellum, which plays a major role in rhythmic timing, are particularly instrumental in these processes.
  • Listening to music does not only stimulate the brain’s auditory circuits; it also triggers parts of the brain responsible for memory recall and motion initiation.
  • Fast-paced music stimulates so-called “pre-motor circuits” that initiate movement across our entire body.
  • Listening to music that is faster than about 140 to 150 beats per minute can create a heightened sense of motivation to move. This effect is triggered by a shift in the basal ganglia’s “go” circuits and the release of certain neurochemicals such as dopamine, norepinephrine, and epinephrine.
  • This effect is independent of whether or not the listener is familiar with the song or finds the lyrics motivating; the faster cadence itself predisposes the listener to move.
  • To boost motivation and focus, consider listening to fast-paced music for around 10-15 minutes before undertaking physical or cognitive tasks.

Tool: Cognitive Work & Binaural Beats (00:50:49)

  • For cognitive tasks, using certain types of sounds or music can increase productivity, motivation, and concentration.
  • Binaural beats, which are different frequencies of beats presented to each ear, can potentially enhance concentration and focus when played at around 40 Hertz.
  • However, certain frequencies of binaural beats could potentially impede concentration and cognitive performance, so more studies are needed to determine their effect.
  • Using White Noise or "Brown Noise" in the background can also aid in cognitive focus.
  • Online platforms like YouTube offer free access to these kinds of sounds, allowing individuals to test which works best for themselves.
  • Classical music, particularly classical piano, has also been found to enhance focus and concentration during cognitive tasks.

Silence or Music for Studying?, White Noise, Binaural Beats (00:54:11)

  • Studying in complete silence yields the best performance on cognitive tasks based on controlled studies.
  • Listening to instrumental music only comes as the second-best condition for performing cognitive tasks.
  • People perform less effectively when listening to music with lyrics in the background.
  • People perform their worst when they are listening to their favorite music while working on cognitive tasks.
  • Studying and learning are most effective either in silence or with quiet instrumentals in the background.
  • The use of white noise, brown noise, or 40Hz binaural beats has been found to produce better levels of focus and cognitive performance than silence in some studies.

Tool: Retain Information & Internal Dialogue (00:58:47)

  • Control of cognitive performance can be improved by being conscious of the internal dialogue that occurs when reading.
  • Listening to the words in your head while reading helps in retaining information.
  • The brain generates pre-motor activity associating to speech muscles when reading, creating the internal dialogue heard within.

Tool: Focus, Work Breaks & Music (01:00:53)

  • Music can negatively impact learning if listened to while performing cognitive tasks.
  • Conversely, listening to music during breaks can enhance cognitive performance and the ability to learn when returning to work.
  • If one must listen to music while working, instrumental music is recommended over music with lyrics.
  • Optimum break duration during cognitive work is 90 minutes.
  • Music, with or without lyrics, can serve as a mental performance enhancer when listened to during breaks.

Physical Exercise, Performance & Music (01:04:11)

  • While the data on the impact of music on physical performance is mixed, the choice to listen to music while exercising is often individual and depends on personal preference.
  • Switching between periods of silence and listening to music can enhance physical performance.
  • Fast, upbeat music or music that evokes motivation and action are typically most beneficial to listen to during workouts.

Music & Shifting Mood (01:08:43)

  • Discusses the ability of music to shift our mood and get us out of states of anxiety.
  • Neurochemicals such as dopamine, serotonin, and endogenous opioids are released when neurons fire at the same frequencies as that of the music being listened to. This causes 'a sound-dependent pharmacologic concert' in the brain.
  • Certain sound frequencies stimulate the release of specific neurochemicals, creating various emotional states in the brain and body.
  • Surveys have shown that people often listen to music to relax (90% of respondents), make themselves happy (82%), process emotions (46.5%), and increase concentration (32.5%).
  • Approximately half of the respondents who listen to music do so to process their emotions, especially sadness.

“Happy” vs. “Sad” Music, “One-Hit Wonders” & Artificial Intelligence (01:14:41)

  • Music that makes people happier tends to be faster, with an average of 140 to 150 beats per minute, usually in a major key.
  • The lyrical content of 'happy' music isn't necessarily meaningful, as the cadence of the music seems to be the critical factor in shifting mood.
  • 'Sad' music tends to be slower, with an average of less than 60 beats per minute, and often causes a furrowing of the brow.
  • Artificial Intelligence (AI) is now being used to generate new songs, utilizing neuroscience to understand how music impacts the brain.

“Bass Face”; Music, Movement & Facial Expressions (01:19:30)

  • Discusses the direct relationship between the frequency and cadence of sounds heard and the listener's facial expressions—the 'bass face' effect.
  • Indicates a so-called 'labeled line', a circuit of neurons going from our ears to our brain, affecting our emotional and motivational states, propensity to move, and specific facial expressions.
  • This idea is backed by studies indicating that these circuits, which evoke specific facial expressions and emotional states, are fundamental components of communication in humans.

Tools: Shift to Happy Mood with Music; Sad Mood Catharsis (01:22:46)

  • Listening to happy music for a minimum of nine minutes can significantly shift one's mood into a happier state.
  • To process somber or sad feelings, listening to sad music for 13 minutes or more can help to process and move past these feelings of sadness. This applies regardless of the reason behind the sadness.
  • The catharsis model, where one's feelings are amplified or matched through music, can help in processing emotional states.

Tool: Music & Reducing Anxiety, “Weightless” (01:27:30)

  • Music can also be used to shift one out of a state of heightened anxiety.
  • A particular song titled "Weightless" by Marconi Union has been shown to reduce anxiety by up to 65%. This significant reduction was accomplished with just three minutes of listening to the song.
  • This song was found to be as effective in reducing anxiety as one of the most commonly prescribed benzodiazepines.
  • The song is easily accessible and can be kept cued up on a device for whenever one may experience anxiety. A YouTube video of this song has garnered over 47 million views.

Playing Instruments, Singing & Brain Connectivity (01:31:16)

  • There is substantial evidence from peer-reviewed studies indicating that learning to play a musical instrument or multiple instruments, especially at a young age (ideally younger than eight), significantly enhances brain connectivity.
  • This increased connectivity is thought to persist into adulthood and has been associated with facilitating other forms of learning and neuroplasticity.
  • Studies show that engaging in musical activities like playing an instrument and singing can lead to an increase in the connectivity between the two hemispheres of the brain, specifically through a structure called the corpus callosum.
  • This increased connectivity is not just about enhancing emotional or logical capacity, but improves the capacity of all brain circuits associated with cognition, language learning, speech, and mathematical understanding.
  • Regardless of age, learning to play a musical instrument, singing, especially singing in groups, and listening to novel forms of music for 30 to 60 minutes three days a week have all been shown to boost connectivity in the brain.
  • These activities can enhance learning and the acquisition of new skills separate from musical learning and singing, as they appear to serve as a gateway to neuroplasticity.
  • Listening to novel forms of music with concentrated attention, rather than just as background noise, can also expand the brain's neuroplasticity, thus improving learning and comprehension abilities.

Music & the Brain (01:39:58)

  • Music has a unique and powerful ability to tap into our neural circuitry and chemistry, influencing our emotional and motivational states.
  • Continuous learning from music offers opportunities for leveraging different kinds of music and silence to increase motivation.
  • Brain functions respond to the formal structure of music, songwriting, singing in groups, and improvisation of singing and musical playing. Further exploration and discussions on these topics will be included in future podcasts.
  • The uptake of music should not be reduced to its component parts, but rather an understanding of how different aspects of music engage the brain and can be exploited for various personal and educational purposes.

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