S2E29 Music

Have you noticed that the music you listen to can directly affect how you feel? Dr. Pete and Dr. Rubin share insights around the psychology of music, while reminding listeners that they are no musical experts. Dr. Pete introduces Marconi Union and the song “Weightless” that was found to be the most stress-reducing song studied. He also introduces Kirtan as a form of meditation, and Dr. Rubin provides insights on how to music may impact our mood states (for better or worse). Tune in to learn more about how music can impact your well-being.




Pete: Well, I know that you and I, back in our day, would be really good dancing and listening to music. 


Nikki: Yeah. Back in the day. Oh yeah, back in the day.


Pete: Aging myself. And so here we are looking at, now as psychologists, the impact of music on behavior and emotion and everything else. What's up, Nikki?


Nikki: Yeah. No, I'm excited to talk about this today because, obviously, well we're not musicians, we should say however we are…


Pete: We're not, 


Nikki: No, oh terrible. 


Pete: Do you have any music talent?


Nikki: No. I mean, I like group dance. Like I did a lot of dance growing up, but I didn't… and I took pianos lessons for a long time, but I was just not very skilled at it. I just like my piano teacher, she was so nice. So I kept taking it, but I was not very…


Pete: I took saxophone lessons. 


Nikki: You did, that's really cool


Pete: During elementary school. 


Nikki: It’s very Bill Clinton of you.


Pete: Didn't stick. 


Nikki: I know I took violin also in elementary school for like…


Pete: Oh yeah, me too. 


Nikki: But that, I really hated, I did it for, I don't know, I think it was like a month or two and stopped.


Pete: I was not patient.


Nikki: Yeah, it's…


Pete: Actually, I remember during the violin, she was a PH…she was a doctor, she had a doctorate. So I was always so confused that this doctor woman came to my house to teach the violin. I never, I didn't know that you could not be a physician and be doctor.


Nikki: Well and here we are. 


Pete: And here we are.


Nikki: Two non-medical doctors here. Well, so to that point, Pete and I are not musicians, but we are consumers of music.


Pete: We are consumers of music. And so today we're going to discuss some of the impacts that music can have on how you feel. And so I mean, I guess let's just look at what's like your top playlist that you listen to. Maybe can we start with that?


Nikki: Sure. Well, we've mentioned a little bit about this before, so actually,


Pete: We have?


Nikki: Yeah, well we've…


Pete: Your memory is ridiculous.


Nikki: My old elephant brain. Yeah, well I always actually tell people, I'm not cool about music at all, I'm really not, like, I don't know, like, well one, because I'm not a musician and then two, I don't like follow a lot of new stuff, but I've mentioned before. I love, my top music is like nineties hip hop. 


Pete: Oh, we have said that…


Nikki: Yeah, we have said that, but I also like eighties. I love eighties pop. I love,


Pete: So do you use like, this is, and we don't have a sponsor, but like, do you use Spotify or apple music or what do you use?


Nikki: I use Spotify, I tend to use Spotify. Yeah. And I like, but even that, that's why I'm not cool. It's like, I really feel like I just discovered making playlists on it in like the last…


Pete: Yeah, but why even make a playlist? That's how I feel about that.


Nikki: Oh, because it's like certain songs I want to listen to. Like, I mean, I like the random ones, but I'm like, I do enjoy making playlists.


Pete: I think this is where you and I are lazy. That's actually a big difference. Wait, you would make a playlist?


Nikki: Yeah, I do make playlists. 


Pete: God, no.


Nikki: But I'll make like one, but this is how lazy I am, I make one for the [inaudible 3:11] they're not very creatively titled, it'll be like fall 2021. 


Pete: This is what you’re in the mood for right now in the fall 2021. Yeah, well, this is how not creative I am. I just listened to all the ones that other people create. I've literally never, I actually, I made one playlist in the 10 plus years I've been using Spotify. 


Nikki: So in the service of talking about like, what music does for us as consumers? Like what is it like for you when you like find a playlist, like you really like. For me, it's like, when I create one, what does it do for you emotionally?


Pete: Well, I heart it because, and then I maybe try and figure out how to get back to it because I also don't always visit the ones that I heart.


Nikki: But those are behaviors. What does it do for you emotionally? 


Pete: Well, I think I seek the music depending on what I'm feeling. So that's an interesting thing I want to talk about. I'm curious, actually, what you think of this. Because I actually don't know the science of this, but why is it that if we're sad, we listen to sad music? And if we're like going to the gym, we listen to upbeat music. Do you know any science around that?


Nikki: I don't know any science around the music of its specifically. Though, what I can say is that it is, just if we think of listening to music that aligns with the emotion we're feeling, that is going to fit very nicely into what we've discussed on the podcast before, which are the action urges that are hardwired into each emotion. So, when we feel sad, the action urge is to what draw, when we feel angry, the action urge is to fight. When we feel scared, the action urge is to run away. So there is this hardwired tendency to kind of do what an emotion is telling you to do. And music pulls for that. Because music has emotional influences and connotation. So sometimes that can be helpful, like when you're saying, if you want to go to the gym and you're, that's sort of energizing and maybe joyful, you might be drawn to joyful energizing music. Though, in third wave of cognitive behavioral therapies. We actually, Pete and I, when we're with patients, if someone's struggling with depression, one thing we're going to tell somebody when they're making a list of like coping strategies, we'll say “do not listen to sad music”. Do not, because what that's going to do is actually exacerbate what it is they're already feeling. We want them to do the opposite…


Pete: Well, that's opposite action. 


Nikki: Correct. 


Pete: I'm going to push you on that because I don't think I would say to someone, ‘don't do’, it because I don't... I think that's why I liked Buddhism. Because Buddhism would told you what to do. But as a raised Catholic, I was what not to do. 


Nikki: Well sure, fair. Well, I was going to say, so Buddhism… though, as a behaviorist, we will say, like I'll say don't, I will say that. Because I'll say, if someone…


Pete: [inaudible 5:51]


Nikki: Well I would say like don't, I'm going to say, I don't want you to do that. Like I want you to actually go listen to something or watch something like TV show that's soothing or funny.


Pete: Well, so it's funny enough that the one playlist I did make is Gym, Dr. Pete. So it's just for the gym that I just,


Nikki: Just for the gyms, 


Pete: And there's a bunch of nineties music in there too. 


Nikki: Yeah, of course, as to be expected.


Pete: But, so you would actually tell clients, “Hey, if you're sad, don't listen to sad”, like notice the urge to listen to sad music and maybe try and listen to like something a little bit more calming or,


Nikki: Yeah, I think it's going to…I mean, and look; it's going to depend on the context. It's not that I'm going to say across the board, you're never allowed to listen to sad music if you're sad. It's more like if someone's is depressed, we really don't want them to engage in behaviors that's going to increase dysregulation. We do, I wouldn’t exactly say that. I would say I want you to be mindful of the urge to do it. And we're actually going to focus on other behaviors that are opposite action to begin to help regulate what you're feeling, and music is powerful. It can elicit such strong emotion. I mean, I would encourage listeners to think about not just joyful music, but like, think of for example, I'm not, like I said, I'm not cool about music. I'm not expert about it, but like classical music is a great example. Like there's, and I don't know anything about classical music and there have been times where I've gone listened to it and it hits me in a way that I [inaudible 7:16] it's like overwhelming.


Pete: Yeah. Well there's research that found that, I guess it was Von Del toll and Jane Edwards, they were trying to find out about like why it is that people listen to it. And so what they found was that, that connect… So this is interesting as a behavior. It was the connection to the feeling to kind of re-experience the feeling is why people might seek it. So again, as a behaviorist, we’re saying, perhaps that's not the best experience.


Nikki: Like you said, it all depend, I guess. 


Pete: It all depends.


Nikki: It always depends. Because it's funny that that's what you're bringing up, because I was just thinking for me, I have a lot of learned associations with certain music. Like there's some music where I'll be like this artist or this song is some of the best times of my life or it's like times like parties in college or things like that.


Pete: That was one of the other main finding, it was the memory trigger.


Nikki: Yeah. For me, actually I'm curious if this is the same for you personally, the strongest memory triggers for me are music and then smell like scent.


Pete: Yeah. I would probably say music less scents. I mean scents a little bit, but I would say music for sure. I think you listen to things and it just brings you right back to that moment is, I mean, I think that's the power of mind and I think if for a listener, everyone has experienced that, there's not a human who hasn't.


Nikki: No, because again, even if you're somebody that again, like Pete and myself, if you're not a musician, like music has been around in human cultures for as long as humans have been around. So we've always been using sound as a way to express ourselves, connect with other human beings. And potentially, increase emotion for better or worse here.


Pete: Yeah. And so one of the reasons that I wanted to do this topic today listeners is because as I was driving coming into the office to record today with Nikki and I was listening to some Tibetan sound bowls. And so I literally, I'm also not cool, and you're definitely cooler than I am, but I'm definitely not, but I'm not cool. So that I just was on Spotify and I just kind of whatever I'm in the mood for. And I was like, wait, I always do meditation or Zen or spa. There's like my top three words are probably often meditation, Zen or spa. And so I was like, let me try Tibetan, let me go different. And I went to Tibetan and these bowls popped up and I was like, I put that on. And it was just really, really relaxing. And it reminded me of this study that found, I don't…have you ever… Marconi Union, have you ever heard of that?


Nikki: No, I haven't actually. 


Pete: So I'll put that in the description. But Marconi Union, this song wait list it was studied and by the Mind Lab International and they found that by people listening to this song resulted in 65% reduction in the participants' overall anxiety and 35% in their usual physiological resting rates. So they also studied the physiology of it.


Nikki: That's so interesting. Well, and this is where music, we're obviously going to have to also talk about the impact just of sound in general. 


Pete: Well go there now then. 


Nikki: Well, yeah, no, I know. Give me a minute, I’m about to …


Pete: Go! Go! Go


Nikki: ‘You better do it right in this second'. I'm like, “I am, I am”. So, music obviously is, there's creativity involved and it's like a conscious production of sound. But sounds just, it's like Tibetan bowls. 


Pete: The bowls, yeah.


Nikki: Like the bowls, it's like, would we call that music or would we call it sound it's like [inaudible 11:01] then I start to think of, cause then I start to think about hum, like what you chant in yoga. Which hum is, and I'm going to forget the hertz, the decibel, it's like it's supposed to be my understanding is that that aligns with the sound of the universe. Like there's some consistent number that is recorded scientifically across certain situations. So that sound has an impact on our brain waves. Like that it's supposed to [inaudible 11:33] things. So, I think that's very interesting. It's like; I start to think we’re wired in that way.


Pete: Yeah. Well also I guess what's coming to mind to me as you're speaking is probably this definition, which might be from the IQ testing that it's rhythm, like the definition of music is about rhythm or sound or whatever. So the sound would also be music. 


Nikki: Yeah, I'm just laughing, because I was like, we're really showing how [inaudible 12:03] we are, in talking about this. Though, but again, I think that's why maybe helpful to have this episode, because we're not actually talking about music as experts. We're talking about it as humans who consume that. With obviously, we're weaving in some of the psychology here. Is there music, like any styles of music that are associated, for example, in Buddhism, or is it more sounds that the focus is on?


Pete: Well there is music called Kirtan, and Kirtan, which I'll also just put in the description, is actually really beautiful for listeners that are looking for meditative practices without sitting in silence. And so Kirtan is a meditative practice from the east. I don't know that the origins are from Buddhism per say, but certainly from Eastern traditions where there's chanting and it's very rhythmic. It is singing, and so you've likely done it in one of your yoga retreats.


Nikki: Yeah, no, I'm sure I have. I mean, I've definitely done chanting though, that tends to, because yoga tends to grow out of Hindu traditions, there's sort of, it's more aligned with that. But that of course makes me think how chanting and singing again exists across all religious and spiritual traditions. Like in Judaism there's a Cantor who, it's not just a rabbi, there's a Cantor who leads the singing specifically. And so…


Pete: Probably all churches.


Nikki: Yeah. That's…


Pete: Or places of worship.


Nikki: That's what I think. I mean, because I think it speaks to just how inherent it is in human culture. Like that we sing and move and want to both like emote. Like let out and experience and consume this like beautiful sounds actually.


Pete: Well, and I think what comes to mind also is in the Zen practice that I do with my teacher, we do chant as well, but in like a singing way, there's often somebody who sings or… so that's also very similar and the chancellor, like they're teachings as well. So there are like the heart Sutra or how to like connect with your heart, it's really the diamond Sutra. So there's sutras, which are also parts of singing, chanting, and so we're seeing that, like you just said, and you'll often read that music is the universal language.


Nikki: Totally. And also for some people it can be something spiritual. Obviously we're talking about the practice in religious or spiritual traditions of actually singing or chanting. Though, it’s funny, because I was recently at a concert the other week with a friend and,


Pete: You did yes?


Nikki: Yeah, yes, at the Hollywood bowl. My first time back. 


Pete: Cool. 


Nikki: In a while. And we were having a discussion after about this friend. Neither of us are singers, we can't sing. But just watching the artist we were saying, it made a lot of sense that if… I've read a lot of and seen a lot of interviews with artists that are vocalists that will say they, or lyricists too, I guess they feel like they're channeling something like that is going to a constant… I mean, have you? I've heard that a lot. They'll say like, I don't know, it's like, it comes through me',


Pete:  Absolutely, yeah.


Nikki: Like the sound or the words or the music that they're writing. And I haven't had that experience because I'm not musical in that way. Though that makes sense to me just being somebody, listening to it and watching someone perform.


Pete: Yeah. Well, and maybe because if you've ever listened to a song that triggered a memory and you really connected with, and maybe you cried, I mean that in and of itself a, is that kind of coming through you. And I think probably every listener has, and there are also impacts like music can improve cognitive performance. So it's interesting. It's like a nice dialectic where you probably see this that a lot of times people, one of the first things they do when they go home is like, turn something on, your music on. And then if we're practicing mindfulness, I'll say just notice that and maybe try to like observe that for a minute before doing it. Maybe see what comes up in the silence. But there's also evidence that working with some background, like you said, classical music. I often go to like some of these… like if you go to Marconi Union channel or like new age type music or even brain waves, you mentioned hum. I think hum may be an alpha. I was trying to look that up as we were talking, but I'm not that…but I think it is as… I'm not that smart, but it is, I think it's like eight hertz is like alpha. I think it's… 


Nikki: Yes, there's theta waves too. I mean, this is where I…


Pete: Yeah, alpha, beta, theta, delta, you and I were never in sororities or fraternities, so…


Nikki: No, we didn't learn this.


Pete: But I'm Greek, so I should know better, but anyway.


Nikki: Yeah, so again, there's just, I think what we're really highlighting here is that there's something universal about human connection to sound and I might even, say extend this to our animal cousins. Because I know they've started to study some things with like playing certain music for dogs. Obviously animals don't necessarily, that we know of, I guess make music, but they do respond to sound effectively. I actually, this is like one of my favorite studies that I read a long time ago, which was there, it's funny, it was with rats and apparently there's like a certain way you can like rub a rats belly and they'll like basically you're tickling the rat. It’s done in like a playful way and they'll make sort of like a rat giggling sound, I guess. And then the study was they recorded that and played it for other rats and other rats found it soothing.


Pete: Isn't it, yeah.


Nikki: Yeah. And I was like, ‘wow, it's amazing’. 


Pete: Yeah, it's powerful. And all these things, it probably links to the neuroscience. And so maybe we will have a guest on for that, but I think we're already coming to the end on this discussion around music. I don’t know, before we end, how are you feeling as we're talking about music?


Nikki: I’m feeling, I actually feel kind of joyful, I think. And I think it's because, probably because it's like, as we've been talking, it's been cuing memories and thoughts that I enjoy listening to and maybe I need to make another playlist.


Pete: Oh my God. And well, be sure to share your playlist with me because you're the, I'm the lazy one over here who doesn't make it, but…


Nikki: I will,


Pete: But yeah, I think you've probably cued some memories or maybe you're also just thinking about petting that rat.


Nikki: Maybe that too.


Pete: Yeah. Well, anyway, I mean, I think to just for listeners just consider whether or not the role that music plays in your world and your life. There is research that shows it improves memory. You can also sleep better, manage pain, improve mood, and just notice the role that it has in your life and maybe see what you're going to tune into and what playlists you listen to today. 


Pete: This has been When East Mets West I'm Dr. Pete Economou.


Nikki: And I'm Dr. Nikki Rubin, be present, be brave.


Pete: This has been When East Meets West; all material is based on opinion and educational training of Doctors Pete Economou and Nikki Rubin


Nikki: Content is for informational and educational purposes only.