Music has evolved over time that it has encompassed many aspects of our lives. It can tell historical tales or our personal experiences, empower us by evoking emotions, even be a tool for therapy/healing. Dr. David Greenberg researches music in how it connects itself with life, how it can be predicted with personality and cognition, and even how it can be used to aid with mental health and autism. Although we all can relate to a song or have emotional connections to one, Dr. Greenberg understands their holistic connections with our lives.
This is the first I have heard of music psychology. Can you explain its history, from its foundation to its growth within the branch of psychology?
Music psychology and music therapy have been around for several decades. The formal history of the latter can be found here: https://www.musictherapy.org/about/history/.
Though these areas have been formally established as a field in science for the past several decades, music has been used as a therapeutic tool for thousands of years including Pythagoras and even prior.
Reading over your articles and research paper, you promoted music as a tool for healing and as a link to personality and cognitive styles (namely with the dichotomous Empathizing-Systemizing Theory). What got you interested in researching music psychology?
Music has been my passion since I was born. throughout my entire life since, I’ve gravitated to the healing aspects of music and its transformative nature. Research is one of the ways that I try to unlock the many mysteries about music. The other way is through my pursuits as a musician. Most musicians are scientist but don’t know it – their testing lab is on the stage in front of a live audience.
You explained in your research that those who prefer empathizing tend to listen to emotional and soothing music (soul, soft rock, etc.)
People tend to listen to music that reflects and reinforces their internal states and though processes. For empathizers, music that is mellow, sad, and emotional deep reflects the way in which they see and interact with the world. Systemizers tend to search for patterns and systems that govern the world and tend to go into tech and I.T. fields. We found that not only did they like intense music but also avant-garde classical, which may serve as a musical puzzle that poses the challenge of discovering the system that underlies it.
I understand that listening to music can evoke emotions, whether it be happy or sad. It even can be used to manage pain. Can you explain why music has an impact on us, both at a mental and biological level?
We are hardwired for music. Babies 6 months to 2 years even recognize music that is played to them in the womb. In part, music is tied to our neurobiology. The music we listen to involves a complex reward system in the brain. But there are many more complexities. For example, there is theory that prolactin [milk hormone] is released in response to sad music, which is why sad music can be pleasurable rather than distressing.
Beyond the brain, music can be transformative personally and socially. It can help with depression and other clinical situations. It can help nonverbal children with autism speak. And it can bring people from conflicting cultures together. Further, certain music listening and performance techniques can facilitate processes of transcendence and self-discovery.
Can you tell me what it is like researching under the music psychology branch? What are some of the rewarding aspects and limitations within the research?
The rewarding aspects is that it can have a direct application to clinical and health settings and also industry. Many companies are beginning to use our research on music and personality which is exciting.
Music can be extremely powerful, but many people don’t know how to use music to its full potential. Unfortunately, many scientific instruments are not enhanced enough to capture the profound impact that music can have, so much of research is reductive and limiting.
Would your recommend everyone to try out an instrument, let alone learn to play one? What are some of the benefits of doing so?
When you learn to play music, you don’t only learn music, but you learn about life. You’re learning about math, you’re learning about emotions, you’re learning how to interact with people, but most of all you’re learning about yourself. There science emerging showing that music lessons at an early age can have positive impacts on brain development.
Last question, are there any advice you would like to give to future music therapists or researchers?
More and more, the world is becoming a place where music therapies and music research is both needed and accepted. However, there can be a tendency for music researchers to conduct research for knowledge’s sake without a clear application for the real world. As researchers and therapists we have to focus our efforts on projects that will be of most use to individuals and society. We have to expand our discussions beyond just the academic community and involve people and communities from all walks of life. How can we better use music to heal? How can we use music to facilitate transformative experiences? How can we better build community and dialogue through music? These are all questions worth exploring. We need to use all of our resources and be creative with cutting-edge technology while at the same time using theory and practices that have been around for centuries, to inform how music will be used in the future.
Even now I listen to calm and soothing music while making this article. As music continues to grow in our lives, I expect researchers such as Dr. Greenberg to continuously research music to benefit our lives. If you guys are interested more of his work, more of his articles/research papers can be located here. If you are interested in your personality’s connection to music or find out if you’re more of an empathic/systemizing person (I got an empathizing score of 56 vs. systemizing score of 14), you can visit http://www.musicaluniverse.org/ for more information/quizzes.