Scientific evidence on why music is of such high value across all human societies.
“Without music, life would be a mistake”, Friedrich Nietzsche said or recall the famous lines of Bob Marley: “One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain”. Music seems of great significance for many. It makes us dance, cheers us up, makes us cry; accompanying us through happy and sad life events. The following fun facts give insight in the human love for music.
1. Music affects happy or sad emotions
Music is one of the most powerful elicitors of subjective emotion. Even when we hear music unconsciously our brain responds, reacting differently to happy or sad music. One study shows that after hearing a short piece of happy or sad music, respondents value photo’s according to what they just heard. Prior listening to a happy (sad) music enhanced the perceived happiness (sadness) of a face irrespective of facial emotion.
2. Music in rituals
Music is a manifestation of emotion and is actively used to provoke emotion in others. This emphasizes the social use of music and partly explains the use of music in rituals. Music promotes pro-social behaviour and bonding during these rituals. In this respect music can be seen as behavior that evolved in ancestral humans because it contributed to their survival and reproductive success.
3. Music releases dopamine
Music can arouse feelings of euphoria and craving. Music that people describe as highly emotional activates areas in the brain involved with motivation, reward and emotion. Recently neuroscientists found that the pleasurable experience of listening to music releases dopamine, the neurotransmitter important for more pleasures associated with rewards like food and sex.
4. Music plays with your expectations
Especially the time course of dopamine release is interesting. It is not only released during the fragment one loves best, but also just before it. Anticipating on the beauty that is to come the brain releases the natural drug for happiness. This way music engages in the brain’s reward system. When we listen to music, these brain networks actively create expectations based on our stored knowledge. Composers and performers intuitively understand this: they manipulate these prediction mechanisms to give us what we want or to surprise us, perhaps even with something better.
5. Music kills pain
You probably know from experience that music can be of great assistance in difficult and painful situations. For example when your heart is broken. Historic analysis shows that people in the distant past were also aware of this fact. In many parts of Africa music was used to reduce anticipated pain during, for instance, circumcision, bone setting, or traditional surgery. Nowadays there is a growing field of health care, known as music therapy, that even uses music to heal. It draws on the several positive effects of music on the body and mind, such as changes in brainwave activity levels, breathing and heart rate.
Music Influences Ratings of the Affect of Visual Stimuli, by Waldie E Hanser, Ruth E Mark
RITUAL AND RITUALIZATION: MUSICAL MEANS OF CONVEYING AND SHAPING EMOTION IN HUMANS AND OTHER ANIMALS, by Ellen Dissanayake
Logeswaran, N., & Bhattacharya, J. (2009). Crossmodal transfer of emotion by music Neuroscience Letters, 455 (2), 129-133 DOI: 10.1016/j.neulet.2009.03.044
Salimpoor VN, Benovoy M, Larcher K, Dagher A, & Zatorre RJ (2011). Anatomically distinct dopamine release during anticipation and experience of peak emotion to music. Nature neuroscience, 14 (2), 257-62 PMID: 21217764
Locke, D., & Hill, R. (1979). Drums of West Africa: Ritual Music of Ghana Ethnomusicology, 23 (2) DOI: 10.2307/851482