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Why We Love Music

Researchers are discovering how music affects the brain, helping us make sense of its real emotional and social power.

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Friday, February 4th

Music affects 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 powerful 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.

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.

Ed Large, a music psychologist at the University of Connecticut, agrees that music releases powerful emotions. 

“Musical rhythms can directly affect your brain rhythms, and brain rhythms are responsible for how you feel at any given moment,” says Large.

That’s why when people get together and hear the same music—such as in a concert hall—it tends to make their brains synch up in rhythmic ways, inducing a shared emotional experience, he says.

Nonetheless, Large, like Salimpoor, says that this difference in music preference is due to how our neurons are wired together

So while activity in the nucleus accumbens may signal emotional pleasure, it doesn’t explain it, says Large. Learning does. That’s why musicians—who’ve usually been exposed to more complicated musical patterns over time—tend to have more varied musical tastes and enjoy more avant-garde musical traditions than non-musicians. He adds that social contexts are also important and can affect your emotional responses.

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This article is a re-post, with minor modifications, of “Why We Love Music,” an article published on greatertgood.berkeley.edu  by Jill Suttie. 

 

 

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