Brainwaves show how exercising to music bends your mind

February 18, 2018 by Hayley Jarvis, Brunel University
Credit: Brunel University

Headphones are a standard sight in gyms and we've long known research shows listening to tunes can be a game-changer for your run or workout.

Back in 2012, Brunel University London's Costas Karageorghis likened music to a legal, performance-enhancing drug, cheating tiredness and sparking feel-good vibes.

But the precise brain mechanisms music triggers during exercise are less understood. That's because monitoring technology is easily tricked by , so scientists couldn't know if the results would be the same outside the lab.

Now researchers have used portable electroencephalogram (EEG) monitoring with interference shielding technology to measure three types of brainwaves during exercise. This lets them compare the brain's electrical feedback while exercising outdoors to music, a podcast, or no soundtrack at all.

They found music rearranges the brain's electrical frequency, causing a drop in focus but enhancing enjoyment 28% more than silence and 13% more than a podcast.

"The EEG technology facilitated measurement during an ecologically-valid outdoor task, so we could finally explore the brain mechanisms that underlie the effects of music during real-life exercise situations", said Brunel psychophysiologist Marcelo Bigliassi.

Setting their own pace, 24 people walked 400m on an outdoor track to either a six-minute blast of Happy by Pharrell Williams, a TED Radio Hours talk about cities, or no sounds at all. Researchers used psychological scales to measure how good the walkers felt, what they focussed their attention on, how pepped or alert they felt and how tired they felt. Simultaneously they used EEG measurements and analysing software to plot their brainwaves across different band frequencies such as lower-alpha, upper-alpha, sensorimotor rhythm and beta.

Music distracted the walkers' focus, but boosted their energy levels and enjoyment more than the TED podcast and not listening to anything. The podcast didn't affect the walkers' perceptual responses, such as how tired they felt, or their affective responses, such as how happy they felt. But it made them enjoy walking more than without a soundtrack. The study says the brain mechanisms behind these effects appear to be linked to a boost in beta frequencies in the frontal and frontal-central regions of the cortex.

"We showed that music has the potential to increase beta waves and elicit a more positive emotional state," said Bigliassi. "This can be capitalised upon during other forms of exercise and render a given activity more pleasurable. People who struggle to engage in physical activity programmes should select appropriate pieces of to and see The Way It Makes You Feel."

Explore further: Chill-out tunes amplify recovery after workout

More information: Costas I. Karageorghis et al, Music in the exercise domain: a review and synthesis (Part I), International Review of Sport and Exercise Psychology (2011). DOI: 10.1080/1750984X.2011.631026

Related Stories

Chill-out tunes amplify recovery after workout

December 5, 2017
Your playlist is key to getting the most out of your post-exercise recovery and can help you stick to your routine, scientists show for the first time.

Motivational music increases risk-taking but does not improve sports performance

January 29, 2018
A new study finds that listening to motivational music during sport activities and exercise increases risk-taking behavior but does not improve overall performance. The effect was more noticeable among men and participants ...

Now you like it, now you don't: Brain stimulation can change how much we enjoy and value music

November 20, 2017
Enjoyment of music is considered a subjective experience; what one person finds gratifying, another may find irritating. Music theorists have long emphasized that although musical taste is relative, our enjoyment of music, ...

Study finds musical agency reduces perceived exertion while working out

October 15, 2013
(Medical Xpress)—A team of researchers from Belgium and Germany has found that musical agency (the ability to control musical characteristics with physical movements) causes people to perceive their level of effort as lower ...

Listening to happy music may enhance divergent creativity

September 6, 2017
Listening to happy music may help generate more, innovative solutions compared to listening to silence, according to a study published September 6, 2017 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Simone Ritter from Radboud University, ...

That music playing in your head is a real conundrum for scientists

November 10, 2017
Researchers at EPFL can now see what happens in our brains when we hear music in our heads. The researchers hope that in time their findings will be used to help people who have lost the ability to speak.

Recommended for you

New technique helps uncover changes in ALS neurons

June 22, 2018
Northwestern Medicine scientists have discovered that some neurons affected by amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) display hypo-excitability, using a new method to measure electrical activity in cells, according to a study ...

Broken shuttle may interfere with learning in major brain disorders

June 22, 2018
Unable to carry signals based on sights and sounds to the genes that record memories, a broken shuttle protein may hinder learning in patients with intellectual disability, schizophrenia, and autism.

Watching stem cells repair spinal cord in real time

June 22, 2018
Monash University researchers have restored movement and regenerated nerves using stem cells in zebra fish where the spinal cord is severely damaged.

Scientists discover fundamental rule of brain plasticity

June 21, 2018
Our brains are famously flexible, or "plastic," because neurons can do new things by forging new or stronger connections with other neurons. But if some connections strengthen, neuroscientists have reasoned, neurons must ...

Waking up is hard to do: Prefrontal cortex implicated in consciousness

June 21, 2018
Philosophers have pondered the nature of consciousness for thousands of years. In the 21st century, the debate over how the brain gives rise to our everyday experience continues to puzzle scientists. To help, researchers ...

Researchers find mechanism behind choosing alcohol over healthy rewards

June 21, 2018
A new study links molecular changes in the brain to behaviours that are central in addiction, such as choosing a drug over alternative rewards. The researchers have developed a method in which rats learn to get an alcohol ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

BobSage
not rated yet Feb 19, 2018
Doesn't say by how much energy levels were boosted. Enough for someone to bother putting on headphones?

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.