Laugh as you may, Barney the Dinosaur had more going on under that thick purple head of his than you thought. Turns out by using songs as a teaching method, he was tapping into a fundamental part of children’s brains that responds to melody and beat. By doing so, it was significantly easier for children to recall the facts they’d learned.

Experts say exposure to music makes changes in the way your brain works; it opens up new patterns of thinking, and even improves cognitive functions that are non-music related. Let’s take a look at the surprising effects music can have on your mind.

  • Ear Worms

We all know what it’s like to get that Katy Perry song stuck on an endless loop in your head (even though you might detest it). Typically the worst offenders are songs that are very simple – both melodically and rhythmically. It’s almost always just a short clip of the song that your brain decides to replay over and over (and over). 

Scientists refer to this phenomena as “ear worms,” and there aren’t solid findings yet on why exactly it occurs. Some theorize the neural circuits get stuck in a repetitive cycle. In extreme cases, ear worms have affected people’s ability to function. A small number of people have experienced trouble sleeping, working, and focusing due to the infinite loop of the song in their brain. 

  • Dopamine Release

Music has strong connections to the reward system in the brain. The striatum releases a chemical known as dopamine, which results in a feeling of pleasure. In fact, imaging of the brain has proven this process to be similar in fashion to the brain’s response to food or sex.

 Something even more interesting is that dopamine is released from the dorsal striatum, an entirely different brain area, about 10-15 seconds before the peak pleasure in the striatum. This occurs because the brain enjoys feeling out its environment and making predictions about what’s coming next. Part of the pleasure experience is the in the brain’s ability to foresee. 

  • Power of the Beat

Studies have shown that when people move in synchronization to a beat, they’re increasingly apt to cooperate with each other while performing non-musical tasks. This may be part of the reason armies train by marching to a beat. Some have even theorized the original function of dancing in evolution was to create emotional bonds between groups of people.

Incredibly, the beat of music even appears to help people with motor disorders walk better. It allows patients to coordinate their movements to a rhythm. Similarly, Alzheimer’s sufferers have shown an improvement in memory through music. Because of this, the use of musical instruments is being investigated as a method of preventing or delaying dementia. 

  • Evokes Emotion

Have you ever listened to an old song and immediately been transported back in time to old memories? We associate songs with different events in our lives. Studies show that when a large number of people were surveyed, they mostly agreed on the emotions present in a piece of music. 

This is the reason advertisers intentionally select music for their commercials, to make you feel a certain way (ever seen the Sarah Mclachlan animal cruelty ad?). Try utilizing music in your everyday schedule to benefit your morale. Crank up some energetic music at the start of your day, and for a wind-down try a soothing melody. 

Music is a fundamental part of our lives. It brings people closer together, and literally enriches our minds. Try learning a new instrument, or simply taking the opportunity to listen to music daily. You may just find yourself reaping some of the brain benefits neurologists have been studying. 

Tagg writes for CableTV.com, check them out for XFINITY Internet. He typically writes about parenting and technology. When he’s not writing or tinkering on the latest gadget, he’s an avid golfer. You can follow him on Twitter @CableTV.