Sit down to listen to songs that remind us of unforgettable moments, feel the euphoria radiated by groups of people chanting a chorus when listening to their favorite musicians at a concert or see the emotion of parents when they observe their baby's response when they sing a lullaby. Music has unparalleled emotional and cognitive effects and this has a brain base that interests researchers from disciplines such as neuroscience and psychology around the world. Today we explain the main conclusions that research has managed to contribute on how music affects the brain.
Music moves many emotions and is involved in cognitive processes that make it a tool with even therapeutic effect. Musical stimuli manage to increase the volume of certain neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, a neurotransmitter that is released producing brain rewards for stimuli that cause pleasure. It also regulates the levels of serotonin, oxytocin or epinephrine, achieving states of pleasure in a very similar way to those achieved by certain drugs.
Thus, music stimulates emotions through specific brain circuits that manage to make this a unique experience.
Stefan Koelsch is a research psychologist and musician who studies the neural mechanisms involved in music. According to Koelsch, there are three structures most involved in the processing of emotions that music provokes:
Many are the studies that support the connection between music and memory. It is surprising to see how patients affected by memory loss due to Alzheimer's disease retain their musical memories even in the most advanced stages of the disease.
Many are the studies that have been carried out to investigate the relationship between music and memory activation. One of these is carried out by Petr Janata, a professor at the University of California at Davis. This proved how the musical memories that provoke the greatest emotion largely activate the dorsal area of the medial prefrontal cortex, an area related to memory retrieval. It seems that this area of the brain is one of the last to be affected by Alzheimer's disease and this could explain why patients can continue to remember melodies that cause them emotion.
Neuroplasticity is the ability of the brain to create new brain connections that repair certain damage or compensate for the injuries that have been suffered. Neuroplasticity allows the brain to acquire new responses to face new situations in the environment in different ways.
It seems that music is able to help the formation of new brain pathways when patients suffer from brain injuries. This is shown by a study at the University of Newcastle in Australia, in which it was studied how patients affected by brain injuries managed to reconnect memories and reorganize information through music, as if it acted as a guide in memory.
Except for people who suffer from specific musical anhedonia, a neurological insensitivity to music, we can all take pleasure in listening to music. However, some people go the extra mile and are prone to a kind of chill or goose bumps when they hear a song they love. It is about experiencing emotions so intensely when listening to music that people can feel sensations of extreme pleasure.
According to research such as that carried out by Harvard University researcher Dr Matthew Sachs, people who experience musical chills have neurological characteristics that are different from the rest. Specifically, it appears that the auditory cortex is more connected with emotional processing areas due to a higher density of the fiber volumes that link these areas. This greater connection causes the two regions to interact better, eliciting these highly sensitive responses..
The effects of music are not overlooked by scientists and psychologists. Its ability to provoke emotions, capture attention and access the most hidden memories are even used therapeutically. A clear example is the use of music therapy as a method to identify emotions in autistic people, to work memory with people suffering from Alzheimer's disease or to improve the mood of people suffering from depression. Music is more than a set of ordered sounds that communicate with each other. It can also help us on different levels and brain studies are increasingly showing this.