Music Mondays: Why We Love & Need Music

Jesse Cassidy |
Brains love music
Brains love music… & light

This week we bring you a special edition of Music Mondays, there is no artist, no band, but instead we attempt to explain why it is that we not only love, but need music. In a recent article published in the New York Times by Robert Zatorre and Valorie Salimpoor titled Why Music Makes Our Brains Singthe two Canadian Neuroscientists’ expain their recent study on musics effects on the brain. It is a very interesting and intriguing article as it explains why throughout history humans have place such importance and value on something that is intangible.

“Music is not tangible. You can’t eat it, drink it or mate with it. It doesn’t protect against the rain, wind or cold. It doesn’t vanquish predators or mend broken bones. And yet humans have always prized music — or well beyond prized, loved it.”

It’s no secret that humans have enjoyed music since its creation some unknown years ago. It can make us happy in our darkest times, it can relieve stress, it can provide creative outlets, it can enhance experiences, and so much more. But why? The answer lies in neuroscience and how music activates subcortical nuclei in the brain which is important in reward, motivation, and emotion in the mind. It was also found that listening to what might be called “peak emotional moments” in music — that moment when you feel a “chill” of pleasure to a musical passage — causes the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine, an essential signaling molecule in the brain.

“When pleasurable music is heard, dopamine is released in the striatum — an ancient part of the brain found in other vertebrates as well — which is known to respond to naturally rewarding stimuli like food and sex and which is artificially targeted by drugs like cocaine and amphetamine.”



The researchers in this study pursued further as to how music engages the brain’s reward system by developing a study that mimicked online music purchasing. By using music recommending programs, the goal was to “determine what goes on in the brain when someone hears a new piece of music and decides he likes it enough to buy it.” And what they found is exactly what they wanted, “we found that neural activity within the striatum — the reward-related structure — was directly proportional to the amount of money people were willing to spend.”

Music, we enjoy it, we love it, and in a way we need it. Dopamine, the chemical in the brain that regulates ones emotional happiness, is heavily influenced by musical qualities. Music can bring joy, it can bring sadness, inspiration, motivation, as well lazieness, it influences who we are, and whom we wish to be. Humans place an extraordinary value and importance on somthing that exhibits no physical or financial value. But through neuroscience it becomes evident what affects music has on the mind, and becomes evident why we as humans not only love, but need music.

Based on the article Why Music Makes Our Brain Sing by Robert Zatorre and Valorie Salimpoor that can be found here.

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