The Power of Music to Improve Our Health

At Universal Music Group and Thrive Global’s Music+Health conference, leaders in music, science, and technology explored the latest research on the direct connection between music and health.

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Selena Gomez, Sir Lucian Grainge, and Arianna Huffington in conversation at the Music + Health conference in Los Angeles

The power of music to bring us joy is undisputed. Listening to a song we love can lift our spirits in an instant. But research shows that music also impacts our physical and mental health in profound ways, even improving conditions ranging from Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s to depression and insomnia.  

This was the focus of the Music + Health summit in Los Angeles, hosted by Arianna Huffington, Founder and CEO of Thrive Global, and Sir Lucian Grainge, Chairman and CEO of Universal Music Group (UMG), in association with Havas Health. Leaders at the forefront of music, medicine, science, well-being, and technology explored the untapped potential of music as medicine.

The goal of the summit, Huffington said, “was to highlight the science and the applications which confirm the power of music to impact our mental and physical health.” 

Speaking at the event, Sir Lucian Grainge said, “Throughout my life, I have experienced countless examples of how music can change people’s mood, comfort them in times of emotional crisis, or even help them physically. At Universal, I wanted this powerful relationship between music and health to not simply be a series of anecdotal observations, I want it to be a key component of our strategy, so we can really put music to work in ways it has never been used before. As a company, we are fundamentally rooted in the belief that music is a powerful force for good, and now we have the science and technology — with AI and therapeutics and more — to help accelerate these developments. It really is one of the most interesting and exciting new frontiers for music.”

Music can improve our mental health

In a conversation with Huffington and Grainge, singer and actress Selena Gomez shared how music has helped her to navigate her own mental health journey.

Gomez, who has 429 million followers on Instagram, said she has heard from fans that her work has helped them through difficult times. “It can be a little heavy,” she said, adding that, “I feel for people, and I think that’s what kind of keeps me in check, to be honest. I think I can be a little reckless with my emotions and having conversations with young people, women who are going through divorces or going through chemo — it’s not just about me, and I’m fully aware of that. I will just always cherish it. It’s a big responsibility, though. It’s a little scary.” 

Gomez also revealed how challenging it was to share her mental health journey in her 2022 Apple TV+ documentary, My Mind & Me. “I was very against it. There was a very long period of time where I just didn’t know if it was a good idea. I didn’t know if it would jeopardize things in my life.” However, when the documentary was released, “I was relieved. I felt like a huge weight was lifted.” 

Thrive Reset: The science behind music’s power to reduce stress

UMG and Thrive Global announced a partnership that will see UMG become the exclusive music partner for Thrive Reset, a science-backed tool that allows us to lower stress in 60 seconds. In a panel titled “Thrive Reset: The Science Behind Music’s Power to Reduce Stress,” Huffington explained how Resets help us interrupt the stress cycle and move from the sympathetic to the parasympathetic nervous system, reducing the rush of cortisol through the body.

For Dr. Ali Rezai, Director of the Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute and Associate Dean of Neuroscience at West Virginia University, Reset is a glimpse of a future where we can fully harness the healing power of music to treat everything from addiction and obesity to migraines and chronic pain. He shared the outcomes from a study undertaken by the Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute on the impact Resets have had on heart rate, anxiety and stress. 

“Resets help rebalance the autonomic nervous system,” Dr. Rezai said. “When you do a Reset with music and breathing,” researchers found that it leads to “a decrease in anxiety, better self introspection, and better burnout scores. Depression improved. HRV (Heart rate variability) increased.”  

He also talked about the potential of Resets to help change the way chronic pain and addiction are managed. “Care needs to come to your home — that’s the future.” 

Chris Becker, Global VP, Architecture & Industry Innovation at Genesys, has seen the impact Resets are already having in contact centers, helping call center workers reduce stress and improve their health and productivity. He spoke about Genesys’s goal of making Thrive Resets available for the one million agents they serve around the world, to help improve their well-being, and benefiting the businesses they work for. 

“Our mission is to get Thrive Resets in every one of their hands,” said Becker. “And the reason for that is really about empathy. One of the things that Genesys holds as a core value is embracing empathy. And empathy means putting yourself in their shoes and treating those people with respect. And if you think about it, humans are empathy machines. And that empathy piece is really critical.”

Becker shared the impact of Thrive Resets for Genesys contact center agents, including a 90% completion rate among Genesys users and a 57% improvement in agents using Thrive Reset saying "My company cares about me and is giving me the tools I need to improve my mental well-being."

"Being able to deliver a capability like Thrive Reset makes the lives of the agents better and the company benefits,” he said. “And by the way, it’s just the right thing to do.”

Arianna Huffington moderates a conversation with panelists (L-R) Chris Becker, Jason King, and Dr. Ali Rezai.

The neuroscience of music: “It gives us a sense of shared internal rhythm”   

In a panel titled “The Neuroscience of Music,” experts explored the many ways music affects the brain. When we listen to music, “almost every area of the brain gets involved,” Dr. Daniel Levitin, a neuroscientist at McGill and UCLA and author of This Is Your Brain on Music, explained. 

“Music connects us to each other,” said Jaron Lanier, a Microsoft research scientist and computer pioneer. “It synchronizes us,” whether we are playing or listening. “It gives us a sense of shared internal rhythm and intimacy. And I think that's what makes it so universal.”

Dr. Assal Habibi, a professor of psychology at USC, talked about the extensive research she’s conducted with children, which has shown that music training at an early age shapes the development of children’s cognitive, emotional and social abilities. She found that playing music over a number of years gave children “a way of emotionally connecting with others.” It also led to the children being more engaged and better able to make decisions. 

Dr. Habibi also shared how music is being used therapeutically to help older people and  patients with Alzheimer’s disease enhance their cognitive functions. Significantly, she says, for patients who are “agitated and suffering from anxiety, music can lift up their mood. If you can just take a little bit of agitation away and have a way for them to connect with their loved ones — that's something a lot of medications cannot do.”

It’s impossible to overstate the significance of music, says Dr. Lisa Miller, a neuroscientist at Columbia and author of The Awakened Brain, who describes musicians as “the most important people in our culture, a source of truth, of transformation.” Music, she said, “shapes our spiritual core.” 

“We’re just getting started with all the ways we can leverage music, both for preventive health and to augment medical treatment,” Huffington said. “The key word of the day for me is ‘accelerate’ and I am looking forward to using the conference to accelerate this growing movement of music and health.”

Arianna Huffington moderates a conversation with panelists (L-R) Dr. Lisa Miller, Dr. Assal Habibi, Jaron Lanier, and Dr. Daniel Levitin.

Published on
September 22, 2023
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