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How and Why Music Makes the Brain Happy Research Paper

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Updated: Aug 26th, 2021

Since ancient times, music has been one of the most popular art forms attracting people. If various emotional and regulatory inputs guide the human in distinct ways, the internal result may be a large number of subjectively experienced feeling states. The emotional power of music may arise from auditory inputs from the inferior underlying emotional circuits. Music may simulate the comfort derived from audio-vocal contact. This may be one of the reasons people love music — it keeps them company.

Comforting effects produced by music can be almost completely eliminated by stimulating the glutamate receptor system with intraventricular injections of kainic acid, which can also increase vocalizations in the absence of mirrors (Breitling 770). Music makes the brain happy, influencing emotions. From a physiological perspective, the emotional distress that accompanies major psychiatric disorders is probably more closely linked to the changing dynamics of underlying emotional systems than to the cognitive systems in which we most commonly see the symptoms. Following Rose (23) might transient arousals of separation distress response systems are felt during certain aesthetic experiences. One of the most intriguing manifestations of separation distress in the human brain may reflect a powerful response many of us have to certain types of music.

It is widely recognized that music is the language of emotions. It is one of the few ways that humans can allow the external world voluntary access to their emotional systems on a very regular basis. Most people listen to music for the emotional richness it adds to our lives. We even love to hear sad songs — especially bittersweet songs of unrequited love and loss (Breitling et al 765). A common physical experience that people report when listening to such moving music, especially melancholy songs of lost love and longing, as well as patriotic pride from music that commemorates lost warriors, is a shiver up and down the spine, which often spreads down the arms and legs, and, indeed, all over the body (Sloboda, 110). To the best of our knowledge, this response reflects a mixture of vasoconstriction, local skin contractions caused by piloerection, and perhaps changes in evaporative cooling at the skin surface. Such effects can be objectively measured as a galvanic skin response (GSR), which is a general yardstick of skin resistance. Of course, there is great variability in the incidence of this response. Some people rarely recognize such feelings in their lives, while others, probably the more social ones, delight in them frequently.

“Kohut and Levarie (1950) claimed that music associated with frightening sounds stimulates the ego to deal with the resultant defensive anxiety by organizing and transforming it into recognizable forms; thus, the pleasure of mastery indirectly becomes the pleasure of listening to music” (cited Rose 47).

Females typically recognize that melancholic music is more likely to produce positive emotions phenomenon than happy pieces, while males more commonly suggest that happy music is the cause. Sad music does, in fact produce more emotions than does happy music, even in males. Conversely, those pieces of music that produce more emotions are typically rated as sad rather than happy by listeners (Breitling 765). People tend to have much more emotional to pieces they themselves have selected, which may reflect the rich networks of associations people have to music they have enjoyed often (Strickland 100). “As for major creativity, it perpetuates the child’s imaginative, restless probing of reality, resampling early, less differentiated stages of imagination and reintegrating them with the realistic perspective of the adult in order, finally, perhaps, to recompose reality refreshingly” (cited Rose 48).

An intriguing possibility is that a major component of the poignant feelings that accompany the music are sounds that may acoustically resemble separation — the primal cry of being lost or in despair. In other words, a high-pitched, sustained crescendo capable of piercing the “soul” seems to be an ideal stimulus for evoking chills. A single instrument, like a cello or trumpet, emerging from a soft orchestral background is equally provocative. Thus, the emotions listeners experience during music may represent the natural tendency of emotional brain systems, especially those that are tuned to the perception of social happiness, to react with an appropriate homeostatic thermal response (Strickland 100). When people are happy, they feel joy — not only physically but also as a neurosymbolic response to social separation. As mentioned earlier, the roots of the social, motivational system may be strongly linked to thermoregulatory systems of the brain. Thus, when people hear the sound of someone who is happy, they also feel joy and delight. This may be nature’s way of promoting reunion. In other words, the experience of separation establishes an internal feeling of thermoregulatory discomfort that can be alleviated by the warmth of reunion (Thompson 67).

In all cultures and historical periods, music has played an important role as a transmitter of emotions and feelings. The study of music has profound consequences for understanding the psychology and neurobiology of human emotions (Breitling 765). Just as each basic mammalian emotion can be expressed in many ways in human cultures — including dance, drama, music, and other arts — arousal of a single basic ludic circuit could add “fun” to the diversity of playful activities. In other words, music impulses that are processed through the higher cognitive networks of the human cortex may result in many seemingly distinct forms of human joy (Thompson 67). The common denominator for all, however, may arise from basic neuronal systems that were originally designed to generate ludicity.

“We are not just emotionally moved by the music we enjoy, but the emotions actually appear to flow directly from the music. Even as we recognize that the information triggering the feelings is encapsulated within the well-interpreted score, the resulting mood changes arise from the dynamic responses of our brain” ((Panksepp, 1999:33 cited Rose 48).

Once people unravel the details of circuits, their role in other forms of music can be evaluated. These interactions may constitute affective consciousness. This foundation process was first laid out in stable motor coordinates within the brain stem. It not only helps guide many higher perceptual processes by promoting attentional focus and perceptual sensitivity but also may provide fundamental stability for the psychological “binding” that is characteristic of the perceptual field (Thompson 67). Presumably, this foundation process is not directly influenced by higher contents of consciousness, although it may be strongly and automatically modified by various other influences — by conditioned emotional triggers, y meditation, music, dance, and probably a variety of other rhythmic sensory-motor inputs and activities.

By directly modifying the intrinsic neurodynamics of the self, emotional circuits establish the conditions by which the essential neural conditions for affective consciousness are created. The mesencephalic roots of the self, through its many neural connections with higher brain areas, help us envision, albeit dimly, the emergence of higher forms of self-consciousness (Zeki 71). Hence, certain types o music, such as the pulsing rhythms of rock and roll, may help simulate a sexual neural reverberation in the brain, promoting energetic forms of dance with strong pelvic movements. Other rhythms may promote the expression of other effects that can be expressed in dance or simply felt. Positive emotions and happiness may reflect a sound-induced change within the neural representation of the primal self (Zeki 71; Stewart 196).

Finally, the most important and impressive influence of disease on artistic work is when it makes the whole character more serene, the keynote more profound. The great composers find ways to induce even more complex emotional states (Thompson 67). This makes it possible for them, like authors and artists, to describe the pain and express suffering in their work. In the St. Matthew Passion, Johann Sebastian Bach makes us feel the lashes tormenting Christ on Golgotha through agitated cadences while subdued strings express the lament of women in the background. Bodily symptoms are difficult to translate into music, and the interpretation of the syncopated leading rhythm in the first movement of Mahler’s ninth symphony as “the irregular beats of a diseased heart” seems romantic (Stewart 196). There is more and better support for the idea that the gleeful Haydn once gave a far from a subtle musical expression of a natural body noise! This is supposedly done with a brief Solo in the Largo of his 93rd symphony where, after preparing the scene with soft music, one instrument after another losing its way, he suddenly makes two bassoons together hammer out fortissimo the long-sought for bottom C. Delighted with emitting the naughty joke he merrily danced away in the welter of a Menuetto. Music also possesses a capacity for appeasing uneasy minds, dispelling the “spirit of Saul,” or in the words of the 18th-century playwright Congreve, “music hath charms to soothe the savage breast” (Breitling 187).

It may also excite, and the effect can be measured in changes in pulse rate and blood pressure. This may have striking consequences: no less than three orchestral leaders are said to have collapsed over a particular passage in Wagner’s Tristan and von Karajan needed an ambulance to take him home after he had conducted the opera for the first time. Beethoven was, however, not always guided by patience. In the Appassionata, he bares his soul and gives free rein to despair and a heaven-storming defiance of his lamentable infirmity. On the whole he succeeded better in becoming a philosopher than his companions in misery, the unrestrained court-painter in Madrid and the venomous Dean from Dublin. For instance, it was under these circumstances that Beethoven composed the Pastoral Symphony, so elevated above human misery and distress; indeed perhaps he attained these heights by a superhuman effort to endure his disability (Breitling 670). It is pathetic to hear him rejoice in rendering the enchanting sounds of animated nature which he could hear only in memory. What he now heard, day and night, was a nasty throbbing. In his Fifth Symphony, Beethoven lets us understand and for a moment share his ordeal by representing it with monotonous beats on the kettle-drum against a subdued background in the strings, a musical “autopathography” (Rose 32),

It is possible to say that the same effects are produced by folk music which influences positive emotions and feelings in listeners. The deep tectal and underlying zones are more richly connected with frontal motor areas, where plans and intentions are generated, than with posterior sensory areas, where perceptions are constructed. Again, in selecting one or the other of these large cortical regions of the brain — sensory or motor -as being more closely linked with primal consciousness, the frontal cortex clearly has a great deal to commend it (Sloboda, 1991). To establish behavioral priorities in time, the frontal cortex needs to actively retrieve perceptual information from sensory cortices. It is also significant that more powerful personality changes result from frontal cortical damage than from comparable damage to posterior sensory areas. “Thus, this form of music became a bearer of historical memory, similar to the role of griots in many West African societies” (Stewart 196). This rhythm would reverberate through the body and, at a cultural level, find representation in the varieties of music stimulus. While forms of damage to many other higher areas of the brain can damage the “tools of consciousness” (Rose 65), they typically do not impair the foundation of intentionality itself. emotions do this with the smallest absolute destruction of brain tissue (Rose 198).

In sum, music is one of the powerful tools which affects certain areas of the brain and causes emotional pleasure. The connection between music and experience is more convincing in emotions. Music stimulates positive emotions and feelings of happiness, joy and delight. Among different kinds of music rhythms, there is a close relationship in terms of form as well as content, and they often develop side by side — this is hardly surprising since they are closely linked with the general pattern of cultural evolution.

Works Cited

Breitling, D., Guenther, W., & Rondot, P. Auditory perception of music measured by brain electrical activity mapping. Neuropsychologia 25 (1987): 765-774.

Rose, J. G, Between Couch and Piano: Psychoanalysis, Music, Art and Neuroscience. Brunner-Routledge, 2004.

Sloboda, J. Music structure and emotional response: Some empirical findings. Psychol. Music 19 (1991): 110-120.

Stewart, J.B. Message in the Music: Political Commentary in Black Popular Music from Rhythm and Blues to Early Hip Hop. The Journal of African American History, 90 (2005): 196.

Strickland, S.J. Music and the Brain in Childhood Development. Childhood Education, 78 (2001); 100.

Thompson, R.A. Early Brain Development and Social Policy. Policy & Practice of Public Human Services, 56 (1998): 67.

Zeki, S. Art and the Brain. Daedalus, 127 (1998); 71.

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