Have you ever been driving and a song comes on the radio, and it instantly lifts your spirits? Music can move our souls, and can lift us out of bad moods, there’s no doubt. But why?
A researcher has decided to tackle that issue. And with interesting results.
Valorie Salimpoor recently was moved from a bad mood by a song she heard. Specifically, Johannes Brahms’s Hungarian Dance No. 5. It prompted her to study music’s effects on humans. It turns out music is not only good for us, but NEW music, that is, music we’re not currently familiar with, may even be better.
From Virginia Hughes’ piece on the study in NATGEO:
Salimpoor’s group reports that when you listen to a song for the first time, the strength of certain neural connections can predict how much you like the music, and that these preferences are guided by what you’ve heard and enjoyed in the past.
The brain scans highlighted the nucleus accumbens, often referred to as the brain’s ‘pleasure center’, a deep region of the brain that connects to dopamine neurons and is activated during eating, gambling and sex. It turns out that connections between the nucleus accumbens and several other brain areas could predict how much a participant was willing to spend on a given song. Those areas included the amygdala, which is involved in processing emotion, the hippocampus, which is important for learning and memory, and the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, which is involved in decision-making.
That’s a lot of big science-type words to say this: People who heard new music were were more apt to buy it based on how much it activated the pleasure centers of our brains.
It’s important to note that the Salimpoor went out of her way to play unfamiliar music that was, in part, based on what the study’s participants liked to begin with.
It may explain why algorithm based music apps like Spotify and Pandora have been successful. They are playing new music based on what people like to hear in the first place. Although, the study also seemed to indicate it may be worth your while to step out of your music comfort zone.
Radio programmers, are you listening?
FYI — Here’s the piece of music that prompted the study. If you watched Looney Tunes when you were a kid, you’ll recognize it.
And the here’s the cartoon it was in.
(via mental floss)