Cognitive and Affective Influence of Music

Music is the art that expresses emotions and ideas in harmony, melody and rhythm. It has been known to have a rather positive influence on human activities and is used to study our behaviour and emotions. The word ‘music’ is derived from the Greek word ‘mousike’ that means the art of the muses, which refer to goddesses of music art and dance. Working on a subconscious and conscious level, music is known to have both a neuroscientific and psychological influence on human behaviour and emotions. Multifaceted musical influence has both long and short-term effects on cognitive processing and there is an inherent relationship between musical structure and emotional response.

The cognitive system interprets and makes sense of the world. Affect is the general term for the judgmental system, whether conscious or subconscious. Emotion is the conscious experience of affect, complete with attribution of its cause and identification of its object. The affective and cognitive systems are thought to work independently, but they influence one another, with the former operating unconsciously while the latter operates at the conscious level (Komninos, 2017).

To understand the cognitive and affective influence of music, one needs to understand Neuromusicology, also known as the Cognitive Neuroscience of Music, which is a modern discipline devoted to the measurement of real-time processes in the human brain while perceiving and producing sound. Research topics range from acoustic feature processing and listening to melodies to composition and music performance (Neuhaus, 2016). To understand this discipline, let us look at a study conducted at the University of Kyushu in Japan. A total of 36 students participated in the survey to know the relation between music and learning process. The students belonged to various ethnic groups and both genders were represented. A majority of them gave a positive response when asked if they liked the music though they preferred different genres of music and in this group. In response to the effect of music on the learning process, 86% of them said they listened to music while studying and that they believed music stimulates an affective response (Jones, 2010). By this data, we can infer that music can positively alter the perception and attention to external activities and give scope for a therapeutic approach of using music to treat various mental ailments like Autism Spectrum Disorder and Dementia. (Neural impairments of people with Autism Spectrum Disorder affect the social interaction and communication.)

Music therapy uses musical experiences and the relations that develop through them to enable communication and expression. It also contributes to increasing social adaptation skill and promotes quality of parent-child relationships. Similarly, in the treatment of dementia, which is understood clinically as degradation of cognitive functions, music therapy promotes effective intervention for maintaining and improving active involvement, social, emotional, and cognitive skills, and for lowering behavioural problems. Music plays a role not only in therapeutic treatment of mental ailments but also in the reduction of anxiety and stress in individuals. It is known to be an outlet for emotions. “There is growing scientific evidence showing that the brain responds to music in very specific ways,” says Lisa Hartling, PhD, professor of paediatrics at the University of Alberta and lead author of the study. At its core, music is sound, and sound is rooted in vibration. Led by Lee Bartel, PhD, a music professor at the University of Toronto, several researchers are exploring whether sound vibrations absorbed through the body can help ease the symptoms of medical ailments (Novotney, 2013).

Music and its cognitive influence in our day-to-day life can be also understood by the Mozart effect; this term which was coined in the year 1991 is believed to relieve stress, improve communication, and increase efficiency. Though the validity of the theory is hotly disputed over, it was observed that the students who listened to Mozart showed better performance. The general conclusion drawn on the experiments were of short term in nature and it is necessary to show and research the long term effects in order to draw proper conclusion (J.S, 2001). Interestingly, even renowned Irish poet and playwright Oscar Wilde also pursued musicality in his writing style: this was portrayed in his works like The Picture of Dorian Gray. Wilde was considered an intelligent music lover who wrote comments on music art forms that only showed his superficial understanding. Wilde encouraged a shift of music from the periphery to the centre of contemporary intellectual concern and it can be deduced that he believed in the cognitive influence of music. (Nakamura, n.d).

Through studies and analysis, it has been proven that the cognitive neural mechanism has a certain influence on music appreciation and learning. In addition, the disciplines of music and psychology are compatible with each other, and they are not alternatives. Thus, music as a cultural activity is an artefact, which shapes and controls human behaviour in an all-pervasive manner.

-Sudhiksha K (One of the Prize Winners of Article Writing Competition 2020 in the 13-24 Years Age Group)

Picture Credits:


J.S, J. (2001). Music as medicine. Journal of the royal society of Medicine, 170-17.

Jones, A. (2010). Music and the Cognitive Process – Student Perception. Polyglossia, 143-150.

Koger, S. M., Chapin, K., & Broton, M. (1999). Is Music Therapy an Effective Intervention for Dementia? A Meta-Analytic Review of Literature. Journal of Music Therapy, 2-15.

Komninos, A. (2017). How emotions impact cognition? Retrieved from Interaction Design Foundation: Retrived from-

M, G., C, E., KA, M., & C, G. (2014, June 17). Music therapy for people with autism spectrum disorder. Retrieved from Cochrane Library:

Nakamura, H. (n.d). “Some Mad Scarlet Thing by Dvorák”: Notes on Oscar Wildeʼs Engagement with Music. Retrieved from

Neuhaus, C. (2016). Methods in Neuromusicology: Principles, Trends, Examples and the Pros and Cons. In C. Neuhaus, Studies in Musical Acoustics and Psychoacoustics (pp. 341-374). Germany: Springer.

Novotney, A. (2013, November). Music as medicine. Retrieved from American Psychological Association:

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