It is no secret that music has the power to make us feel. Whether it is laughing, cry, reminiscing, or even relaxing, since we can remember, music has evoked emotions. And the same applies to moods! Music has been known to affect mood — joy, annoyance, and everything in between. However, the question is not “if,” but “why” music makes us feel.
Thankfully, a lot has been said about this topic, so keep on reading!
— September 9th, 2021
Music enthusiasts, scientists, doctors, and specialists have all written on why music evokes feelings. Today, we want to share with you two points of view from two renowned authors and professors that shine some light on the subject:
Elizabeth H. Margulis
Director of the Music Cognition Lab at Princeton University and the author of On Repeat: How Music Plays the Mind
In a classic paper, Patrick Juslin and Daniel Västfjäll propose several underlie emotional responses to music. First, brain stem reflexes ensure that sudden, loud sounds can startle at the most basic level. Second, evaluative conditioning—the repeated pairing between a musical sequence and some other object or circumstance—can imbue the sounds with associative power. Third, music can elicit internal simulation of its expressive patterns, potentially leading to emotional contagion. Fourth, it can evoke imagery, thoughts, or memories that themselves trigger an emotional response. And finally, it can fulfill or violate expectations that people sustain while listening.
To this list, I would add that music can draw people out of their usual mode of attending to the world and into a subjective, participatory involvement with the sounds that many people find highly pleasurable. The diverse ways that making and experiencing music can involve feelings indeed extend far beyond this list as well.
Assistant Professor of Creativity and Creative Practice at Northeastern University and Director of the Music, Imaging, and Neural Dynamics Laboratory
My lab studies music and the brain, and I have always been fascinated by why music can give us the chills, also known as frisson. In one study, we specifically asked whether there are any differences in brain structure that might explain individual differences in how music makes people feel. We ran an online survey on several hundred participants. We found that some people consistently reported getting chills frequently when listening to music, whereas others did not admit to getting chills much at all. So we brought two groups of these subjects into the lab, one group who got colds all the time and another group who did not.
We made sure that both groups were the same age and gender and had the same level of musical training and personality factors. In addition, we verified that people who reported getting chills were indeed experiencing changes in their physiology—their heart rate was faster. In addition, their skin was more conductive (sweatier) during particular moments when they reported getting chills in response to music.
Finally, we scanned the brains of these two groups of people. We showed that those who got chills always had a higher volume of white matter connectivity between auditory areas of the brain and areas of the brain that were important for emotion and social experiences. So brain connectivity, particularly between auditory and emotion centers of the brain, seems to be linked to the ability of music to make us feel things. So in a way, music is an auditory channel towards the emotional centers of the brain. Perhaps that is why we make playlists for the people we love.
This article is a re-post, with minor modifications, of “Why Does Music Make Us Feel Things?” an article published on gizmodo.com by Daniel Kolitz.