What is it about music that makes us nod our heads? Snap our fingers? Move our hips? CNN reported on three different studies that explain it to us. The first study explored the idea that music can naturally calm us down. Patients about to undergo surgery were separated into two groups: those who listened to music and those who took anti-anxiety medication.
They found that those who listened to music had lower self-report anxiety and lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol, as well as active immunoglobin A (an antibody linked to immunity), and a higher count of germ and bacteria-fighting cells.
Great! So music is healthy, but what makes it enjoyable?
The second study had participants listen and rate 60 excerpts of music while in an fMRI machine to keep an eye on the brain activity. They found higher activity in the nucleus accumbens when the participant liked the music, meaning “reward-related expectations were met or surpassed.” In other words, the brain registered a reward associated with that clip of music.
They also found that the superior temporal gyrus forms based on past experiences with music, and tastes reflect that. So an individual growing up listening to jazz will have a differently formed superior temporal gyrus, and therefore, a higher appreciation for jazz, than someone who grows up listening to punk rock.
Want to hear the clips they used? You can listen to them here.
So not only is music healthy, calming, and enjoyable, but it’s unique, right?
Actually, the final study proves that we all experience music pretty much the same way. Participants, again, while in an fMRI, listened to four symphonies by William Boyce. The researchers found that the brains all reacted pretty much the same way: eliciting movement, attention, planning, and memory.
It is also suggested that this common experience is what unifies people. “It’s not our natural tendency to thrust ourselves into a crowd of 20,000 people, but for a Must concert or a Radiohead concert, we’ll do it,” said Daniel Levitin, a psychologist studying neuroscience and music at McGill University.