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The Science Behind Music + Love

Image by Daniele Colucci via Unsplash

Music is the soundtrack of our lives. It animates our journey through life and all of our unique phases. Generally, everyone can relate in a shared feeling of love for music. We may not all enjoy the same genres or artists, but all of humanity generally shares a love for the overall faculty of music.

From a psychological standpoint, “there’s a chemical link between music and emotion” (Jessica Schrader, Why Listening to Music Makes Us Feel Good). The act of listening to the music we love triggers the release of dopamine in our brains. Dopamine is a type of neurotransmitter that is sometimes known as the “feel good chemical,” as it plays an important role in how we experience pleasure. It can be concluded that “hearing music produces a litany of internal neurological processes, unlocking various emotional experiences.” (Noah Kest, The Science of Music and Love)

Beyond the mental and psychological impact of music, its influence can quickly become physical as well. Many of us are familiar with the sensation of “chills” we experience when we hear a song that makes us feel good. A study published by Wesleyan University’s Psychology Department coined the term “frission” as the most accurate way to describe this experience of music. The study quotes that the term frission is accurate because it “integrates emotional intensity with verifiable tactile sensations not localized to any one region of the body.” Some researchers have even referred to this experience as a “skin orgasm,” as it describes the waves of pleasure experienced on the skin when we hear certain music.

This concept of frisson or skin orgasm is important because it demonstrates our body’s physical response to music. As Professor Jerrold Levinson puts it, music listening involves “‘whole person’… cognitive, emotional, sensational, and behavioral at once” (Jerrold Levinson, Musical Frissions). It involves the whole person and through moments of “frission” can have a number of positive effects on the human mind and body.

They found that listening to frisson-inducing music (relative to a control piece) corresponded with cerebral blood flow (CBF) changes to the midbrain, left ventral striatum, bilateral amygdala, left hippocampus, and ventromedial prefrontal cortex. These patterns may reflect a “craving” reflex similar to that surrounding responses to food, sex, and drugs of abuse (p. 11823). It is possible, then, that the reason we develop such affinity for frisson-inducing music is that once we experience musical frisson, we develop a dopaminergic anticipation for its return, effectively becoming slightly addicted to the musical stimulus.

Researcher John A. Sloboda found that the most common musical phrases to induce frission were moments of “chord progressions descending the circle of fifths to the tonic, melodic appogiaturas, the onset of unexpected harmonies, and melodic or harmonic sequences.” Moments of modulation and dynamic peaks of loudness were also listed as moments more likely to induce the experience of frission.

According to an article in Psychology Today, “it can be argued that music is a core function in our brains. Our brains are wired from the beginning to process and understand music”. All in all, humanity is united in our love for music. Its influence involves the entire person, and the feelings of love that it stimulates within each of us is a scientific reality. We will continue to explore topics that deepen our understanding of the ways in which music moves us on a deep level, individually and collectively as a whole.



How does music make you feel? Let us know @healthandbass :)


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