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Why We music articles Love Music Greater Good
Throughout our history, humans have felt compelled to make art. Ellen Dissanayake explains why . In one study , Large and colleagues had participants listen to one of two variations on a Chopin piece: In version one, the piece was played as it normally is, with dynamic variations, while in version two, the piece was played mechanically, without these variations. When the participants listened to the two versions while hooked up to an fMRI machine, their pleasure centers lit up during dynamic moments in the version one song, but didn’t light up in version two. It was as if the song had lost its emotional resonance when it lost its dynamics, even though the “melody” was the same. 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. 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. Jill Suttie, Psy.D. , is Greater Good ’s former book review editor and now serves as a staff writer and contributing editor for the magazine. She received her doctorate of psychology from the University of San Francisco in 1998 and was a psychologist in private practice before coming to Greater Good . New research compares the benefits of expressing gratitude by text, by video, and face-to-face. And, luckily, now that the pleasure pathways are now deeply embedded in my brain, the song can keep on giving that sweet emotional release. Discover how the arts enhance educational achievement . Why We music articles Love Music Greater Good
Why We music articles Love Music Greater Good
When analyzing the brain scans of the participants, she found that when they enjoyed a new song enough to buy it, dopamine was again released in the nucleus accumbens. But, she also found increased interaction between the nucleus accumbens and higher, cortical structures of the brain involved in pattern recognition, musical memory, and emotional processing. Resentment and gratitude are opposites—so dealing with feelings of resentment can help gratitude come more easily. Angry or overheated when talking about emotions? Try these steps: Chunk it down, pause, reflect. “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.” Here's a simple way to boost kids' motivation, illustrated by one of our favorite children's books. Become a subscribing member today. Help us continue to bring “the science of a meaningful life” to you and to millions around the globe. “If I asked you to tell me a memory from high school, you would be able to tell me a memory,” says Salimpoor. “But, if you listened to a piece of music from high school, you would actually feel the emotions.” But what happens in our brains when we like something we haven’t heard before? To find out, Salimpoor again hooked up people to fMRI machines. But this time she had participants listen to unfamiliar songs, and she gave them some money, instructing them to spend it on any music they liked. Her findings also explain why people can hear the same song over and over again and still enjoy it. The emotional hit off of a familiar piece of music can be so intense, in fact, that it’s easily re-stimulated even years later. “Musical rhythms can directly affect your brain rhythms, and brain rhythms are responsible for how you feel at any given moment,” says Large. “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.” I still remember when I first heard the song by Peter Gabriel, “Solsbury Hill.” Something about that song—the lyrics, the melody, the unusual 7/4 time signature—gave me chills. Even now, music articles years later, it still can make me cry. The Greater Good Science Center studies the psychology, sociology, and neuroscience of well-being, and teaches skills that foster a thriving, resilient, and compassionate society. “If I’m a performer and you’re a listener, and what I’m playing really moves you, I’ve basically synchronized your brain rhythm with mine,” says Large. “That’s how I communicate with you.” 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. Social contexts are also important, he adds, and can affect your emotional responses. But if our brains all synch up when we hear the same basic dynamic differences in music, why don’t we all respond with the same pleasure? Jill Suttie explores how music strengthens social bonds . Other research on music supports Large’s theories. In , 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. “In fact, when we debriefed the listeners after the experiment was over, they didn’t even recognize that we were playing the same piece of music,” says Large. This finding suggested to her that when people listen to unfamiliar music, their brains process the sounds through memory circuits, searching for recognizable patterns to help them make predictions about where the song is heading. If music is too foreign-sounding, it will be hard to anticipate the song’s structure, and people won’t like it—meaning, no dopamine hit. But, if the music has some recognizable features—maybe a familiar beat or melodic structure—people will more likely be able to anticipate the song’s emotional peaks and enjoy it more. The dopamine hit comes from having their predictions confirmed—or violated slightly, in intriguing ways. “It’s kind of like a roller coaster ride,” she says, “where you know what’s going to happen, but you can still be pleasantly surprised and enjoy it.” For our 100th episode, host Dacher Keltner sits in the guest chair and tries one of the most popular happiness practices. Who among us doesn’t have a similar story about a song that touched us? Whether attending a concert, listening to the radio, or singing in the shower, there’s something about music that can fill us with emotion, from joy to sadness. 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. Music works in much the same way language works—using a combination of sound and dynamic variations to impart a certain understanding in the listener. Discover how playing music together can help kids develop empathy .
© 2021 The Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley 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. Ed Large, a music psychologist at the University of Connecticut, agrees that music releases powerful emotions. His studies look at how variations in the dynamics of music—slowing down or speeding up of rhythm, or softer and louder sounds within a piece, for example—resonate in the brain, affecting one’s enjoyment and emotional response. Large, like Salimpoor, says that this difference in preference is due to how our neurons are wired together, which in turn is based on our own, personal history of listening to or performing music. Rhythm is all about predictability, he says, and our predictions about music start forming from a pretty early age onward. He points to the work of Erin Hannon at the University of Nevada who found that babies as young as 8 months old already tune into the rhythms of the music from their own cultural environment. “Liking is so subjective,” he says. “Music may not sound any different to you than to someone else, but you learn to associate it with something you like and you’ll experience a pleasure response.” When playing the more dynamic version, Large also observed activity in the listener’s mirror neurons —the neurons implicated in our ability to experience internally what we observe externally. The neurons fired more slowly with slower tempos, and faster with faster tempos, suggesting that mirror neurons may play an important role in processing musical dynamics and affecting how we experience music. What if we didn't take good things for granted, and recognized all the kindness we receive from others? Learn how gratitude can lead to a better life—and a better world. Salimpoor believes this combination of anticipation and intense emotional release may explain why people love music so much, yet have such diverse tastes in music—one’s taste in music is dependent on the variety of musical sounds and patterns heard and stored in the brain over the course of a lifetime. It’s why pop songs are, music articles for students with questions