The “Star-Spangled Banner” stirs pride. Ed Sheeran’s “The Shape of You” sparks joy. And “ooh là là!” best sums up the seductive power of George Michael’s “Careless Whispers.”...UC Berkeley researchers have surveyed more than 2,500 people in the United States and China about their emotional responses to these and thousands of other songs from genres including rock, folk, jazz, classical, marching band, experimental, and heavy metal...The upshot? The subjective experience of music across cultures can be mapped within at least 13 overarching feelings: amusement, joy, eroticism, beauty, relaxation, sadness, dreaminess, triumph, anxiety, scariness, annoyance, defiance, and feeling pumped up....more
“People from different cultures can agree that a song is angry, but can differ on whether that feeling is positive or negative,” said Cowen, noting that positive and negative values, known in psychology parlance as “valence,” are more culture-specific...Across cultures, study participants mostly agreed on general emotional characterizations of musical sounds, such as anger, joy, and annoyance. But their opinions varied on the level of “arousal,” which refers in the study to the degree of calmness or stimulation evoked by a piece of music....more
Music impacts us in ways that other sounds don’t, and for years now, scientists have been wondering why. Now they are finally beginning to find some answers. Using fMRI technology, they’re discovering why music can inspire such strong feelings and bind us so tightly to other people.
“Music affects deep emotional centers in the brain, “ says Valorie Salimpoor, a neuroscientist at McGill University who studies the brain on music. “A single sound tone is not really pleasurable in itself; but if these sounds are organized over time in some sort of arrangement, it’s amazingly powerful.”
How music makes the brain happy
How powerful? In one of her studies, she and her colleagues hooked up participants to an fMRI machine and recorded their brain activity as they listened to a favorite piece of music. During peak emotional moments in the songs identified by the listeners, dopamine was released in the nucleus accumbens, a structure deep within the older part of our human brain.
“That’s a big deal, because dopamine is released with biological rewards, like eating and sex, for example,” says Salimpoor. “It’s also released with drugs that are very powerful and addictive, like cocaine or amphetamines.”
There’s another part of the brain that seeps dopamine, specifically just before those peak emotional moments in a song: the caudate nucleus, which is involved in the anticipation of pleasure. Presumably, the anticipatory pleasure comes from familiarity with the song—you have a memory of the song you enjoyed in the past embedded in your brain, and you anticipate the high points that are coming. This pairing of anticipation and pleasure is a potent combination, one that suggests we are biologically-driven to listen to music we like.
- BY JILL SUTTIE | JANUARY 12, 2015
Different notes for different folks
Other research on music supports Large’s theories. In one study, neuroscientists introduced different styles of songs to people and monitored brain activity. They found that music impacts many centers of the brain simultaneously; but, somewhat surprisingly, each style of music made its own pattern, with uptempo songs creating one kind of pattern, slower songs creating another, lyrical songs creating another, and so on. Even if people didn’t like the songs or didn’t have a lot of musical expertise, their brains still looked surprisingly similar to the brains of people who did.
- BY JILL SUTTIE | JANUARY 12, 2015