Intuitively we recognize the significant impact music has on our lives. We remember the first song or album we ever bought, we put time and effort into picking the perfect song for the first dance at our wedding, and we even think about what kind of music we’d like played at our funeral. Psychologists have found that music stimulates more areas of the brain than any other human activity.
Taking inspiration from music psychology, we take a closer look at why music makes us feel happy, how music brings us together and how songs, beats and tunes play a pivotal role in our lives.
Building Social Bonds
Music has been shown to boost oxytocin, a hormone that acts as a neurotransmitter which affects everything from social bonding to sexual attraction. This impacts our ability to trust others and increase social connections; a prerequisite for the formation of cultures and societies. For people across history and different cultures music has been a communal experience. It may be that we are pre-programmed to seek out others when we heard music and to develop cooperative relationships with others as we sing, dance, and play together.
Music not only helps us relax mentally but physically too. Studies have shown that listening to music can help reduce blood pressure and heart rate, as well as anxiety, in patients suffering from heart disease. Music therapy can be found in hospitals and care centers across the world as more and more doctors recognize the power of music to enrich patients’ lives in times of increased stress and hardship.
The range of studies on the effect of music on athletic performance has been extensive, with studies regularly showing that music helps us achieve results with less effort. An interesting revelation from this investigative work is that people tend towards music played at 120bpm while working out, and that music above 145bpm doesn’t provide additional incentive or motivation. Equally interestingly, Pop, Hip Hop, and Rock all tend to fit in the 120-140bpm band raising the question of whether we’re programmed to tune in to this speed of rhythm or whether we work well at this speed because of mass exposure through our favorite music?
We know that music makes us feel good, and can flood us with all kinds of emotions; joy, aggression, sadness, even boredom. However, studies show that while listening to music the process of anticipating change, for instance a verse giving way to a chorus, and then having that anticipation fulfilled results in the release of dopamine in parts of the brain. This release of dopamine occurs in exactly the same way as when we fulfill necessary, life-giving needs like eating, sleeping, or “sleeping”.
Lessons Worth Repeating
Even more interestingly, we don’t just feel good when we listen to familiar music; we’re even programmed to seek out new music. Researchers have observed spikes in activity in the nucleus accumbens, a part of the brain associated with reward, when participants listen to new music. The connection between rewards and repeat behavior are well studied, and like Pavlov’s dog any music lover knows that once you start searching for new music, it’s a habit that is hard to break.
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