The impact of Desert Island Discs

The BBC radio programme Desert Island Discs has had a powerful psychological impact on people since its first recording in 1942. Asking individuals what music they would listen to should they be cast away on a desert island, the broadcast has struck a chord with listeners due to the significant effect music can have on a person's life.

Desert Island Discs is celebrating its 70th anniversary this weekend (January 28th and 29th) and Chartered Psychologist Dr Mike Lowis has explained the show often provides a biological picture of a person's existence based on key events that had an emotional significance.

Rather than simply choosing their eight favourite records, guests often select songs that reveal an insight into their thoughts and feelings that usually reside in the unconscious.

Dr Lowis pointed out: "The listener can obtain quite a different picture about a well-known personality than previously compiled from the usual utterances and news stories.

"A brilliant idea, and it is not surprising that the programme has survived for so long," the expert observed.

He added: "When the programme was conceived and first aired in 1942, I wonder if the originators knew anything of the psychology behind music and the powerful effect it can have on people.

"Music has been a part of virtually every human culture in every historical period. It is believed to have pre-dated speech, originating from the sing-song tone of voice that mothers use for babies - it would have helped create the emotional bond that is so important for survival of a species whose infants remain helpless and dependent for such a long period.

"Whereas speech communicates facts and ideas and is predominantly a left-brain process, music communicates emotion and is processed predominantly in the right cerebral hemisphere.

"Music has many uses, as attested by the work of Music Therapists. It can help to communicate with, and help, individuals with a variety of psychological challenges where attempts at talk therapy might flounder.

"The reason being that it relates to the emotions – this being one of the three main determinants of human behaviour (vis. cognitive, affective, conative).

"Another important property of music is that it can evoke memories, especially of events that were emotional and were accompanied by similar music. Examples include weddings, funerals, and experiences during formative periods of life including romantic episodes (the 'darling, they are playing our tune' syndrome)."