Photo courtesy of JD Hancock
A great appreciation for music is something that many of my family members share – ranging from musical inclinations to having a general love of music. Throughout my life, I’ve often used specific songs to put me into the right frame of mind for certain situations, and I have a sibling who is veritably obsessed with the entire concept of music.
Of course, music has been used for thousands of years to enhance a variety of situations, so I realize that it’s not just my little family that has discovered the amazing benefits of song. Marching bands get fans into the spirit of football games, lullabies tend to soothe and calm fussy babies, and teachers use catchy tunes to help students learn. What I wanted to know was: why?
After doing a little research, I discovered that there appears to be a very real connection in the brain between music and mood. Congratulations to us for being onto something all of these years!
Recent research shows that even the anticipation of your favorite song will give you a rush, but for the full benefits, you’ll have to keep listening until you reach your peak emotional arousal. Sounds worth looking (or listening) into, no?
Dopamine, a neuro-transmitter, is released by nerve cells in response to the feeling of pleasure that we get from external (and usually tangible) rewards like food, money, drugs, sex, and some activities that may signal that one of these rewards is imminent, like falling in love.
However, since listening to music isn’t really thought of as a tangible reward, the brain’s dopamine response to music had not been studied until recently.
The results are impressive.
The levels of dopamine in the brain increased by up to 9% in people who were observed while listening to some of their favorite music. This is exciting news, because it verifies that “we can release dopamine in anticipation of something abstract, complex and not concrete, such as an aesthetic stimulus,” according to Valorie Salimpoor, co-author of the study.
The study also cemeted the fact that the chills you get during your favorite part of a song are due to the levels of dopamine spiking in your brain. This moment is also called a musical ‘frisson.’
This tells me that Gloria Estefan was right – eventually, the rhythm is gonna get you – to smile! People have been telling us for years to listen to more music when we’re feeling down. With scientific proof that it works, what’s stopping you?