Music is undoubtedly one of those things that give you pleasure in life. In fact, studies have shown that the brain reacts to music similarly to how it reacts to good food, sex, and some drugs. It was found that a surge of dopamine – a neurotransmitter associated with pleasurable activities – is the same as it is with food, sex, and certain addictive substances.
This was a very interesting discovery due to the fact that, unlike food and sex, music is abstract. Moreover, we can experience physiological responses to anticipation and enthusiasm over what the next sound is going to be. This article will discuss what makes music so powerful that it can stimulate the brain the same way a drug does.
The Phenomenon of Musical Enjoyment
One explanation as to why music makes us feel so great could be because our brains simply love predicting and figuring out patterns. As music sets up aural patterns that maneuver our mind to unconsciously predict what comes next, we receive a sense of reward – in which case is a rush of dopamine – every time the prediction is correct. However, this does not address how music is essential for our survival as a species.
According to David Huron, a musicologist from Ohio State University, the practice of making mental predictions based on minimal information has always been crucial to our survival. In this context, our instincts are key to guiding us to the right answer. Emotions also play an important part in going around the logical brain and getting to the gut feeling part. At some point, you may experience the sudden surge of emotion upon hearing a piece of a certain song.
Although your mind knows that it is simply a sound, this automatic reaction still seems to be beyond your control. Huron suggests that this tendency to overreact is a perfect opportunity for musicians to craft a piece that is able to conjure intense emotions – even with the most simple stimuli possible. Consequently, it appears that we both need and enjoy this intricate interaction between expectations, predictive logic, and emotion provided by music.
It is also worth noting that our personal relations to music will have a cultural aspect to them. This means that you must have some context or rules in place about what is considered acceptable and what is not in order to have any expectations about music. Your expectations will mostly be based on what you have heard all your lives and what is normal in your culture and geographical area. In addition, you also have personal preferences when it comes to the complexity of music you enjoy listening to. Some people may like being stimulated by minimal music while others may hate its simplicity.
Similar to how you perceive other languages that you don’t know, a musical style that you are not familiar with may sound all the same to you. On the other hand, the type of music that you know by heart may appear more complex and interesting to you. If you are a fan of electronic music, you will most likely not say that all electronic music sounds the same.
In sum, your response to music is multifaceted and culture-specific. While there could be many undiscovered reasons that could explain our pleasure for music, the process of listening, expecting, and predicting will have to be enough for now. Psychologists and musicologists have a long way to go before they can uncover all the possible answers to explain this musical enjoyment phenomenon. In the meantime, they can enjoy what music has to offer while trying to figure it all out.