Mindpath Health’s Anna Boyd, LPC shares why getting your groove on can help your brain’s executive function.

Listening to Groovy Music Helps Improve Brain's Executive Function

Dancing is a great form of exercise to improve muscle tone, strength, flexibility, mental health, and coordination—and it’s also great fun. But it may also have a positive effect on brain performance—if you dance to the right type of music, that is.

Researchers from the University of Tsukuba in Japan found that this universal human activity may boost the “executive function” of the listener. Their study, which was recently published in Scientific Reports, revealed that music with a groove (also known as groove music) can significantly improve executive function and associated brain activity in those who are familiar with the music.

Music and Cognition

Previous research has studied exercise’s effect on cognition, finding that even mild exercise has benefits on the prefrontal cortex and executive function, and hippocampus and memory function.

Like physical exercise, music is well known to evoke feelings of pleasure.

“Music has been shown to release levels of the neuroreceptor, dopamine (the ‘pleasure hormone’) in the brain,” says Anna Boyd, LPC, a licensed professional counselor with Mindpath Health, who specializes in music and art therapy.

Boyd adds that dopamine is also a facilitator for behavior within the human experience. “It aids in the individual’s motivation to seek basic needs like food and water,” she says. “Imagine what increased dopamine could do for individuals who are experiencing symptoms of depression, where they might find it difficult to simply get out of bed or eat consistent meals.”

Essentially, music can be a tool to help increase levels of dopamine in the brain, which can aid in the healing of depressive symptomatology, Boyd explains.

A Closer Look at the Study

Music has three main factors that affect our body and mind—harmony, rhythm, and melody, explains the study’s lead author Hideaki Soya.

“We focused on rhythm, specifically groovy rhythm, which goes well with exercise,” Soya adds. “This suggests that rhythm may boost the benefits of exercise on mental health or cognitive well-being.”

The scientists compiled a groove track using digital music creation studio Garage Band, with a rhythm of 120 bpm—an “appropriate tempo for inducing groove with drum beats”.

Before and after listening to the groove music or white noise, the 58 study participants undertook a color-word matching task. At the same time, the researchers carried out brain imaging on them.

The participants also completed a survey about their subjective experience of listening to this type of music, to determine whether any results would be like to their individual taste in music.

The brain imaging focused on the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (l-DLPFC), a region of the brain related to executive function. Researchers found that the groove rhythm increased the executive function and l-DLPFC activity in participants who felt more alert (or a “greater groove sensation”) after listening.

“We found that if the conditions are met, groove rhythm could boost not only psychological change but prefrontal cognitive function,” says researcher Takemune Fukuie. While Fukuie and his team hypothesized that, they were still surprised to be able to detect it.

Improving Executive Function

Executive function is a set of cognitive skills required for self-control and managing behaviors, like planning, self-control, memory, following directions, and multitasking.

These skills are important in many aspects of life, such as focusing on something, making plans, time management, regulating emotions, and paying attention.

You can use several strategies to improve your executive functioning, such as creating checklists for tasks you need to do, breaking up large tasks into smaller steps, using a schedule to help you stay organized and set goals, and managing your stress levels.

As far as getting your groove on goes, more research is needed.

“We need to determine the potential influential factor for individual differences of the effect,” says Fukuie.

Boyd says you can learn a lot about yourself from how you choose to use music in your everyday life. “Become curious about the role that music has and is playing in your life,” she says. “Is it speaking a language that feels representative of your victories and your losses? What power does music hold for you?”

Promising research is beginning to paint a biological picture of how the mechanisms of our brain respond to music, Boyd adds. But further research is needed to fully understand this process.

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