Music's good for you. Study after study has shown what an early education in music can do for your memory and your math skills. It can make you more empathetic. It strengthens your motor skills.
But as we've pointed out before, you get those benefits only if you actually pick up a saxophone or a sousaphone and make an effort to learn to play the darn thing. Goofing off in the back of band class isn't going to do it. Cranking up the music, slapping on the Beats and tuning out the real world doesn't work by itself.
That said, even for those of us who may not know the difference between a piano and pianissimo, music can have a tangible effect on our everyday lives.
Here are four surprising ways that music can mess with your brain:
1. Music can get you ready for love …
We all knew this, right? "Blueberry Hill"? Beyonce? Barry White, anyone?
Well, scientists have been studying this for some time, and yes, music will get you going. Maybe it takes more than some deep-throated R&B master to consummate that romantic relationship. But in a 2010 study, researchers put on what they deemed "romantic" music (and, for another group, some "neutral" music), had some 18- to 20-year-old women listen to it, and then subjected them to a fake marketing survey given by a young man.
The survey ends, the dude asks the girl for her phone number and … "How do you like them apples?"
"It was found that women previously exposed to romantic lyrics complied with the request more readily than women exposed to the neutral ones," the researchers concluded.
2. ... or definitely get you out of the mood
German researchers in 2006 published a study in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin that looked at the effects of sexually aggressive songs and how they impacted thoughts, emotions and behaviors.
The takeaway: If a song can be described as sexually aggressive, it's a mood killer.
"Male participants who heard misogynous song lyrics recalled more negative attributes of women and reported more feelings of vengeance than when they heard neutral song lyrics," the study shows. "In addition, men-hating song lyrics had a similar effect on aggression-related responses of female participants toward men."
3. It can make your wine taste better.
There's some science here, too. It's not complete, by any means. But a 2010 paper in the British Journal of Psychology studied 125 men and 125 women who drank a glass of wine while listening to four distinct types of music. The author, professor Adrian North (who was at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, Scotland, at the time), concluded that, "independent groups' ratings of the taste of the wine reflected the emotional connotations of the background music played while they drank it."
The music ranged from a Tchaikovsky waltz to a Depeche Mode cover, and the wine was Chilean, as reported by the Wall Street Journal. When the wine drinkers were listening to heavy, powerful music, that's how they perceived the wine to taste. When the music turned mellow, so did the taste of the wine.
"These results indicate that the symbolic function of auditory stimuli (in this case music) may influence perception in other modalities (in this case gustation)," North wrote.
4. It can change the way you think.
More than simply getting you in a mood or influencing how you feel, a study suggests that music can make you reconsider your thinking or change your mind.
It all has to do with something called the Construal-Level Theory (CLT) of Psychological Distance. One of the tenets of the theory is that the farther something is perceived to be from someone, the more abstract it is. As it gets closer, more details emerge and the concept becomes more concrete.
Two psychologists, an Austrian and a German, played alternating chords to subjects in a 2014 study, at different speeds and with other effects. They were attempting to see if listening to these specific sets of chords — a kind of less-structured, more abstract tone, and a more familiar, concrete one — would get the subject to think in a more abstract or concrete way.
It worked. When asked to group shopping items, the ones who listened to the abstract chord grouped the items in fewer categories. They were thinking more broadly, with fewer broader categories. When the other, more familiar chord was played, the subjects formed specific categories, and more of them.
Music — simple chords — changed how people perceived the world around them, how they thought about it and how they reacted to it.
And all they had to do was listen. Nobody even had to pick up a sousaphone.