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How music affects your brain while you drive

How does music affect your brain while driving?

Whether you listen to R&B, classic rock, country music, or even show tunes, music has a way of evoking certain emotions that no other sensory element can match. As Friedrich Nietzsche said, "Without music, life would be a mistake."

But what happens to our brains when we listen to music? And how does a catchy tune or familiar chorus affect us when we're taking part in exercises that require concentration - like driving?

Music and our minds

Did you know that music affects multiple areas of the brain and that the effect it has can change based on the types of music we play?

For instance, if you listen to happy music, you're more likely to see a person's neutral expression as happy, whereas sad music will paint that same expression in a more negative light. Some people believe that this means we can understand the emotions of a musical piece without actually feeling them (which explains why certain people can enjoy sad music despite having radiant personalities).

Music can also spur creativity. According to studies, ambient noise can trigger the parts of the brain responsible for creative thinking in part because music triggers short-term memory receptors. This means that playing music, specifically soothing instrumental tunes, at a modest volume can potentially leave listeners feeling more creative and even productive. With that said, music can also be a distraction, and this type of distraction can hurt one's ability to comprehend, think, and even act. This is when music can become a problem, especially when driving.

The dangers of listening to music while driving

"Safe" music provided by researches is okay to listen to while driving, but the music of one's own choice does not typically fall into that category. According to a study of driver behavior among teens, the most popular form of music to listen to while driving is dance/trance techno, which causes drivers - especially young adults - to drive with more aggressive tendencies.

Other potential dangers that befall drivers who listen to music include:

  • Physical distractions. Listening to one song on repeat is never enough. Instead, we as drivers are always thinking ahead - thinking about the next tune we're going to sing along to. Whether that means clicking through your Spotify or messing with the volume dial on your dashboard, there is little doubt that listening to music while operating a motor vehicle does present plenty of physical distractions.
  • Mental distractions. Focusing on song lyrics instead of the main road presents numerous dangers, especially if the music you choose to listen to is loud. Newfoundland's Memorial University found that a driver's reaction time can be decreased by as much as 20 percent when loud music is played.
  • Important outside sounds are muted. When you choose to listen to music in the car, you risk muting important sounds that come from outside your vehicle, such as an ambulance or police interceptor. And the louder your music plays, the lower your chances of being alert to a road emergency are.

It is difficult to turn off music altogether while driving, but it is necessary for certain situations. If you are a new driver, an easily distracted driver, or even if you're getting used to a new vehicle, do yourself a favor and put the radio on pause until you feel entirely comfortable with your driving arrangements.

And even then, be sure to listen to your favorite tunes at a moderate level.

Sinclair Broadcast Group is committed to keeping our viewers accident-free, which is why we initiated the Drive Safe campaign. Steer clear of danger with our monthly tips.