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Anna Karamazina

26.11.2022 15:00


Will we ever understand why music makes us feel good?

No one knows why music has such a potent effect on our feelings. But thanks to some recent studies we've many interesting suggestions.

Why do we like music? Like utmost good questions, this one works on numerous situations. We've answered some situations, but not all.

We like music because it makes us feel good. Why does it make us feel good? In 2001, neuroscientists Anne Blood and Robert Zatorre at McGill University in Montreal handed an answer. Using glamorous resonance imaging they showed that people harkening to enjoyable music had actuated brain regions called the limbic and paralimbic areas, which are connected to ecstatic price responses, like those we witness from coitus, good food and addicting medicines. Those prices come from a gush of a neurotransmitter called dopamine. As DJ Lee Haslam told us, music is medicine.

But why? It’s easy enough to understand why coitus and food are rewarded with a dopamine rush that makes us want more, and so contributes to our survival and propagation. (Some medicines lessen that survival instinct by stimulating dopamine release on false pretenses.) But why would a sequence of sounds with no egregious survival value do the same thing?

Still, we now have numerous suggestions as to why music provokes violent feelings. The current favorite proposition among scientists who study the cognition of music – how we reuse it mentally – dates back to 1956, when the champion and musician Leonard Meyer suggested that emotion in music is each about what we anticipate, and whether or not we get it. Meyer drew on earlier cerebral propositions of emotion, which proposed that it arises when we’re unfit to satisfy some desire. That, as you might imagine, creates frustration or wrathfulness – but if we also find what we’re looking for, be it love or a cigarette, the lucre is all the sweeter.

Meyer argued, is what music does too. It sets up sonic patterns and discrepancies that tempt us to make unconscious prognostications about what’s comingnext. However, the brain gives itself a little price – as we’d now see it, a swell of dopamine, If we’re right.

Why should we watch, however, whether our musical prospects are right or not? It’s not as if our life depended on them. Ah, says musicologist David Huron of Ohio State University, but maybe once it did. Making prognostications about our terrain – interpreting what we see and hear, say, on the basis of only partial information – could formerly have been essential to our survival, and indeed still frequently is, for illustration when crossing the road. And involving the feelings in these expectations could have been a smart idea. On the African campaign, our ancestors didn't have the luxury of milling over whether that screech was made by an inoffensive monkey or a raptorial captain. By bypassing the “logical brain” and taking a roadway to the primitive limbic circuits that control our feelings, the internal processing of sound could prompt a rush of adrenalin – a gut response – that prepares us to get out of there anyway.

We all know that music has this direct line to the feelings who has n’t been embarrassed by the gashes that well up as the strings swell in a novelettish film, indeed while the logical brain demurrers that this is just pessimistic manipulation? We ca n’t turn off this anticipate instinct, nor its link to the feelings – indeed when we know that there’s nothing life-hanging in a Mozart sonata. “Nature’s tendency to overreact provides a golden occasion for musicians”, says Huron. “Melodists can fashion passages that manage to provoke remarkably strong feelings using the most inoffensive stimulants imaginable.”

Sound check

The idea that musical emotion arises from little violations and manipulations of our prospects seems the most promising seeker proposition, but it's veritably hard to test. One reason for this is that music simply offers so important occasion for creating and violating prospects that it’s not clear what we should measure and compare. We anticipate rising warbles to continue to rise – but maybe not indefinitely, as they noway do. We anticipate pleasing chimes rather than jarring conflict – but what sounds pleasing moment may have sounded discordant two hundred times agone. We anticipate measures to be regular, but are surprised if the jumpy syncopation of rock’n’roll suddenly switches to four-forecourt oompah time. Anticipation is a complicated, ever-changing interplay of how the piece we’re hail has gone so far, how it compares with analogous pieces and styles, and how it compares with all we’ve ever heard.

So, one corollary of Meyer’s proposition is that emotion in music will be primarily culturally specific. In order to have any prospects about where the music will go in the first place, you need to know the rules – to appreciate what's normal. This varies from one culture to another. Western Europeans suppose simple measures like waltz time are “natural”, but Eastern Europeans cotillion happily to metres that sound extraordinarily complicated to others. All of us develop a strong, subconscious sense of which notes sound “right”, whether in sequence in a air, or sounding together in chimes. But because different societies use different scales and tunings – the scales of India and Indonesia, for illustration, don’t admire the tunings of a piano – there's nothing universal about these prospects. A gleeful piece of Indonesian music may be interpreted as “sad” by Westerners simply because it sounds close to being in the traditionally “sad” minor scale.


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