Cognitive dissonance occurs when you receive information or experience something that goes against what you previously knew to be true. Our brain has the natural tendency to want to disregard any new information that doesn’t match our current view. Whether we are challenged with a math problem in school or a relationship that leaves us feeling uncomfortable, these experiences produce cognitive dissonance. In Leonid Perlovsky’s article titled “Cognitive Function of Music and Meaning Making,” he explains a new theory that music is our best tool available to help our brains remain engaged enough to navigate cognitive dissonance, solve math problems, and feel through challenging relationships.

This theory was first brought to my attention at a live TEDx talk last month by country singer-songwriter Cam (we will post the video link as soon as it is available), where she explained Perlovsky’s theory of how music helps with cognitive dissonance. As a songwriter, this concept makes a whole lot of sense to me. I often write songs during times when I am experiencing cognitive dissonance about a situation. It’s in the times when I don’t have a concept or even words to make sense of my experience that I pick up my guitar and enter into a creative process that helps me to express the difficult-to-express feelings. After I write a song, it is then my hope that others may listen to my song to help make sense of their difficult-to-express feelings too. Sometimes these feelings are positive and joyful, and sometimes they are not. In most cases though, I get a feeling that, even in a world where it seems like it’s all been done before, there isn’t a song that expresses EXACTLY what I’m feeling. That’s when I know, I need to try my best to write the song.

Human Evolution

Music is fundamental to our evolution as human beings. If we had no way of dealing with cognitive dissonance, we would not be able to develop language. When we developed language, our brains changed and vocalization became a voluntary process rather than an involuntary way of releasing our emotions through sound; music helps bring us back to the ancient wisdom of our past.

Academic Implications

The research to support this idea has multiple implications, from higher performance on tests to emotional resiliency after loss. In a 2013 study titled Mozart Effect, Cognitive Dissonance, and the Pleasure of Music, students who were able to listen to music while taking tests performed much better on the test than those who did not listen to music. This relates to cognitive dissonance because our brains typically spend less time on the things that don’t make sense to us; but with music, students spent more time on the more difficult problems, and by paying more attention to the difficult problems, they performed much better on the tests.

Daily Life

Outside of academics, you can imagine how music can help with all kinds of cognitive dissonance in our day to day lives… experiences like losing a loved one, break ups, divorces, addiction, or any other life change which requires us to acknowledge things that are uncomfortable and which we’d rather disregard… What if we were able to sit with these difficult aspects of our lives and gain meaning from the experience, rather than do our best to not think about it because it’s uncomfortable? I think we’d experience our emotions, and gain wisdom. I think we’d realize our need for connection to help us through the unpleasant emotions. Perhaps that’s what we’re doing when we go to a concert and hear songs that make us feel something inside. Perhaps this is the role of the songwriter and composer—to help reconnect us all to some ancient sense of wholeness.

Next time you experience cognitive dissonance, while performing a difficult task, or processing something new, try listening to music to help you stay with it longer. If you’re interested in learning how to express yourself through your own musical creations, but don’t have the tools to do so, feel free to call me to talk more about how music therapy and/or songwriting could help you in your life.

Contact Jodi: 775-324-5521, jodi@note-ables.org

Jacob’s Story: A glimpse into living with Autism

Jacob’s Story: A glimpse into living with Autism

Bill Roach remembers receiving the call from his daughter that his grandson, Jacob, had been diagnosed with autism. “She was pretty upset," says Roach. "I told her no matter what the problem was, she still has her family and that we would all stand by her and do...

Singing Him Home – Music Therapy in Hospice Care

Singing Him Home – Music Therapy in Hospice Care

One Story of Music Therapy in Hospice - Singing Him Home Written by Jodi McLaren  I’d like to share a story from my own experience as a music therapy intern working with hospice patients. Each person in hospice care is different and has different needs throughout his...

A New Perspective on Addiction

A New Perspective on Addiction

Addiction, Connection, and Music Therapy For a long time, I and many others have seen drugs as the cause of addiction. If you take enough of a highly addictive drug, you will become addicted. This is what I was taught in school growing up. But there is a new theory...

Processing Physical and Emotional Trauma through Music Therapy

Processing Physical and Emotional Trauma through Music Therapy

Traumatic experiences live in the body and activate the fight/flight or freeze response even when the danger is no longer there. Those with unresolved trauma may experience the feeling of being in danger physiologically with rapid heart rate, heightened cortisol...

Music Therapy and Emotional Trauma

Music Therapy and Emotional Trauma

My first real opportunity to work with individuals who had experienced severe trauma and abuse was during my clinical internship at Oregon State Hospital. During this time I had the extremely challenging experience of working with institutionalized children and teens...

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This