Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Music and Behavior Modification

When I was growing up, my parents were not fans of my doing homework with the radio on. Of course, I know that a radio is almost an anachronism but in those days, a household generally had just one television and radios were used quite a bit. They would have been apoplexic had I proposed doing my homework in front of the tv, but even the radio was dubious until I proved to them that I could actually study quite effectively with the radio on.

Now, granted, the choice of music and the volume at which it is played has a big impact on my ability to concentrate. I have also noticed how music or the lack thereof is very influential in my workouts. I have a rowing playlist and a cycling playlist. Both I created in an effort to use music to help me keep up my speed and rhythm. I've noticed a big difference in the effort I put forth when there is music that pushes me along.

In the past several months, there was an article in the NY Times Magazine (I think) about some research being done with elderly patients who exhibit dementia. As I recall, these patients improved significantly when put in an environment that closely approximated their environment as middle aged adults, complete with period specific music. It was very interesting. I've noticed, anecdotally, that when I'm driving, if there is alot of traffic or the traffic is both fast and complex, then I need music to help me focus. If the road is boring and I'm in danger of nodding off, then I need music to keep me alert.

I've just been wondering if maybe we might want to consider a more systematic use of music in various contexts. What about using music to help students focus, in classrooms. Or using music in prisons, to create a peaceful and harmonious environment. Usually, when I have to have an MRI, I'm given a choice of music so that I stay diverted and calm during the procedure. I see that we use music in many ways, but i'm wondering how systematic it is. I'm also wondering if there are studies that examine the role of music in learning, in athletic activities, in depression or mental illness, in medical procedures. I have a hunch that our society may benefit from a more systematic and intentional use of music in various types of circumstances.

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