Pump Up the Jam: Music’s Impact on Performance


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Per research, music can certainly make a positive impact on an athlete’s performance.

Joey Tomassetti, Editor-in-Chief

Before a big game in sports, everyone has their own way of getting pumped up. For most people, listening to music is a favorite strategy. Sometimes, even raising the volume of the music that you are listening to can make you run faster or play harder.

In an article written by PBS, author Costas Karageorghis, who wrote the book Applying Music in Exercise and Sport, was asked about music’s effect on the brain.

When the brain is listening to music, it lights up like a Christmas tree,” said Karageorghis. “It’s an ideal stimuli because it reaches parts of the brain that cannot be easily reached.”

Listening to music unlocks several major brain areas at once, according to his research. Some of these areas are the parietal lobe, which contains the motor cortex, the occipital lobe, which is the brain’s center for rhythm and coordination, the temporal lobe, which regulates pitch and tone, and the frontal lobe and cerebellum, which regulate emotion.

These brain areas are critical to athletic performance. It is in the temporal lobe that cortisol – a stress hormone – is released. Music helps alleviate stress by reducing the amount of cortisol in the brain. The parietal lobe regulates the body’s motor function, which determines how straight we can throw a football or how well we can coordinate our limbs while running or swimming. Essentially, it allows people to have rhythm while they work.

Karageorghis’s research has focused on how music regulates mood and helps us tune out distractions. The key, he found, is to use music to tap into the brain’s section of dopamine and natural opioids, two naturally occurring chemicals that block our perceptions on fatigue and pain.

Karageorghis also explains how music can enhance mood and self-confidence.

“Based on my research, music can be like a performance-enhancing drug. It’s just that intoxicating,” he said.

For example, a happy, upbeat song might send a positive message to the brain about performance, which might boost confidence as a result. Conversely, songs with sad messages can help curb excess adrenaline and bring our anxiety levels back to neutral, post-workout or competition.

Renya Gordon, a neuroscientist with the Vanderbilt University Medical Center, says it’s unusual for so many parts of the brain to act in unison.

Gordon’s research shows that music can also have a lasting effect on our emotions. When she exposed test subjects to sad music and then showed them a face expressing a certain emotion, the subjects were more likely to assume the face was frowning.

“Our brains want to make sense of the info coming in,” Gordon said. “People are able to recognize emotion in music from very short excerpts.”

All in all, music does play a large role in the performance of athletes. Whether it is upbeat and happy music or mellow and sad music, it impacts the brain of an athlete in some way or another.