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How sound affects body and mind

Music in the office

It's impossible to imagine our lives without music. We listen to it when we exercise, shower, cook, work, wake up or even when we’re lovesick. But…
by Anne Wolf |

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[Translate to English:] Playlist zum Arbeiten

It's impossible to imagine our lives without music. We listen to it when we exercise, shower, cook, work, wake up or even when we’re lovesick. But what does music actually do to our body and mind? Why do we dance, cry and laugh when we listen to music and how can we best incorporate music into our everyday (professional) lives?

The path from the ear to the brain

Ears are among the oldest sensory organs because auditory cells were the first specialized cells in evolution. The fine hair cells in the ear convert sound waves into electrical impulses, which are transmitted to the brain via the auditory nerve. The unique aspect of music relative to normal sound is that it activates several different regions of the brain at the same time. It stimulates the cerebellum, which controls body movements and the sense of balance, the cerebrum, which is responsible for higher functions of consciousness, and the limbic system, which controls our emotions.

Music thus has a profound influence on our state of mind. Even when we’re not consciously aware that we are listening to music, our body reacts. Music affects heart rate and pulse and thus indirectly influences our blood pressure and brain activity. In addition, it also affects our respiratory rhythm, metabolism, oxygen consumption and even our sense of pain.

How can we put the effect music has on us to good use?

As memory training:

Because music activates so many areas of the brain, it can also be linked to the formation of memory. In one study, for example, researchers had anatomy students learn the subject matter by singing and discovered that doing so made it easer for students to recall what they had learned. It is also known that some areas of the brain are better developed in musicians. It is thought that this may help explain why musicians tend to suffer less from dementia as they age.

As a stimulant or for stress reduction

The physical reaction to music triggers hormones, which in turn have an influence on our emotions.

Fast music increases adrenaline in the body, making us more alert, effective and active, and is therefore especially recommended for monotonous work.

Soft music, on the other hand, increases levels of norepinephrine, which ensures that fewer stress hormones are released. This can help to relieve stress, sleep disorders and even pain. It is well-suited for focused work on complex topics.

To strengthen cohesion

When we listen to music together with others, it results in the release of the hormone oxytocin, which strengthens emotional bonds. A number of cultures have put this effect to use for decades in the form of ritual dances or recurring melodies, such as those heard in church. It has been proven that a team event involving music or a dance after work can thus serve to profoundly strengthen team cohesion.

Researchers are not in complete agreement over whether music promotes a comprehensive creative process or if it possibly even inhibits it, and whether silence is preferrable.

Ultimately, music can have a positive impact on the performance of an entire team in many ways. It is important to note that music is and remains a matter of taste. What is reassuring to one person may be disturbing to another. Music that is too loud or aggressive is not recommended, particularly during work.

Is listening to music in the office even allowed?

Germany’s Federal Labor Court has ruled that music in the office is not prohibited in principle. However, it is up to the employers’ discretion, meaning that music should not disturb customers or colleagues. If the music negatively affects productivity or behavior, for example, employers have the right to prohibit it.

Since offices are considered private spaces, even if clients are present, there is no requirement to pay music royalties in Germany to the rights organization GEMA. Regulations are different when it comes to the mandatory license fee for German public broadcasters, which must be paid, and is based on the size of the business premises and the number of employees and company vehicles.

And by the way, we have put together playlists suitable for all aspects of your life. You want to listen to relaxed, but a little faster music while you work? Then our New Work | Upbeat Focus playlist on Spotify is just right for you. Do you want something a bit quieter? Then take a listen to our Spotify New Work | Deep Focus Relax playlist.

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