“Where does the music come from?”. We may never get an answer to that, other than serious speculations. Had he, on the other hand, asked how music can have such an incredibly strong impact on us humans, the answer would not have been long in coming. The following year, two music researchers in Canada were finally able to show that parts of the brain (nucleus accumbens) associated with our self-reward system are activated when we listen to music we like. This may well be a “sex, drugs and rock’n’roll” center in the brain, as one of the researchers actually put it. The positive side effects of music.
But how can music activate the parts of the brain that are otherwise associated with our self-reward system? When a living being behaves in a way that benefits the survival of the species, it gets a chemical kick of joy in the brain. A system that increases the chances of survival. Fundamental is, of course, eating and reproducing, which gives reward with various feel-good substances. And also in many other contexts, not least social, we get our rewards. Even drugs go this way in the brain. But where does the music come in then? Music does not have the clear survival gain associated with food or sex, nor does it show the addictive properties associated with drug abuse.
Still, the average person spends a considerable amount of time listening to music, and considers it one of life’s most enjoyable activities.
Since the magnetic camera in the late 80’s and other brain imaging techniques saw the light of day, neuroscience has progressed by leaps and bounds. The technologies have enabled researchers to now measure activity in the brain and investigate phenomena that were previously largely impossible. It is fascinating that one can now study higher human functions such as creativity. It is not only in neuroscience that the study of music has gained momentum, also in other disciplines such as psychology and musicology, research reports are coming in ever denser stream
Now it’s not just the self – reward system that is triggered by music. Music starts events in the brain which in turn initiates changes in the whole body. Almost all regions of the brain are activated. This includes pathways both in the higher cognitive centers of the brain; in the cerebrum as well as in lower more primitive centers. Music causes activity in the part of the brain that is connected to the autonomic nervous system and which can provoke physical reactions, such as sweating, sexual arousal and “corpses along the spine”. Music can also change, among other things, heart rate, respiration, blood pressure, brain waves, and levels of neurotransmitters such as dopamine, adrenaline, norepinephrine and serotonin.
Whether you are aware of it or not, your brain is constantly trying to figure out what the next musical event will be, when you listen to music. If you listen to music with the same tonal language that you grew up with, you know what the continued possibilities are. Your brain has compiled a statistical map of the most likely and least likely continuation of events. If the music continues to dot the most likely events, you will soon be bored. And if they are always the least likely, you may get annoyed. This of course varies from individual to individual. Some want more predictable events, others fewer. Some of us prefer security over surprises and vice versa. The point is that when you have just found the music that has the right balance for you, you get increased brain activity and get started on that music. This also usually affects the way we develop our taste in music.
We tend to like music that creates a balance between what we recognize and what is new, a balance between the simple and the complex and generally what is similar to what we liked before (but not too similar), simply because this activates larger parts of the brain.
There is no particular genre that has a greater impact than any other, no unique style of music that engages brain regions in a more sophisticated way than others. The music experience is individual and is based on your preferences (what you personally prefer), which you actually started to build up already in the fetal stage. The greater (positive) brain activity the music creates, the greater the impact the music has on you and the more you like it. If you listen to music that does not trigger any activity in the brain at all, you will be pretty indifferent to it. But music can also create discomfort. If you hear music that you really dislike, it can cause activity in completely different parts of the brain, such as the part that gives you “fight and flight reaction”. You may get upset and maybe start sweating and getting really angry. Music has been used as torture. One example is when the United States invaded Panama in 1989. It was soon known where the country’s leaders had taken refuge. After bombarding that area with heavy rock at very strong volume for several days, around the clock, leader Manuel Noriega finally capitulated. Among other things, they are said to have used the group Van Halen’s hit song “Panama”. A spokesman later claimed that the music was used mainly to prevent eavesdropping on the negotiations, and not as a psychological weapon based on Noriega’s presumed aversion to heavy rock.
The only thing that remains of the old hierarchical thinking about music and division into highs and lows, is of course music as an identity creator. One might think that only young people use music as identity markers, but it seems to continue more or less throughout life,
Let’s think about this about music and brain activity. It seems as if the power of habit rules and what we are generally fed with in the way of music becomes what the brain prefers, (creates more and more brain activity), and thus becomes our favorite music. Play with the idea that we started again tomorrow, with a completely new music genre as the only music available online, radio stations and other sounded devices. According to the reasoning above, it would probably not take too long before the brain would begin to favor the “brand new music” of most of us. By being fed with similar tonal language over and over again, we seem to find it relatively easy to learn to like any music. (Apart from the reasoning about music as an identity marker). We immediately realize the responsibility that rests on public service. And who has the real power over the music today? Who should have the power over the music?
Of all the human cultures we know, not a single one has existed without music. Some of the oldest objects found during excavations are flutes of bones and drums of animal skins. Whenever people get together, the music is there – at weddings, funerals, school exams, military marches, sporting events, body treatments, prayer, waking up from anesthesia, romantic dinner, sleeping children, spas and students studying plug.
Already in antiquity (Aristotle) they began to formulate the idea that there is an interaction between body and soul. It was not just about eating healthy, there was also an obvious notion of strengthening the defenses of the soul to prevent bodily diseases. A large part of the doctors’ job was to inform about a proper way of life to preserve health. Cultural activities were a given ingredient and music had a fundamental function within this system. The influence of music was also part of the basic education for doctors during the Middle Ages.
This way of thinking about the interaction between body and soul came to cool down, but today the interest in health promotion and preventive measures has increased significantly. Many are those who today are looking for new knowledge to increase their well-being and their quality of life. We can also see an increased interest in the research centers and web portals that are now emerging in “culture and health”, both in and outside .
The idea of the intrinsic value of music and culture sometimes arises in these contexts of culture and health. This sometimes leads to hot conversations. There are, of course, different definitions of this intrinsic value, but not entirely uninteresting in the context is that we music creators cannot influence what users do with our music. The way of using music is changing more and more rapidly in step with the development of technology and knowledge in the field. I feel that the idea is increasingly marginalized.
It is also surprising in this context that so far we know relatively little about how people actually use music in their everyday lives. This is relatively little explored – the black hole of culture as someone put it.
Previously mentioned that music affects us to the extent that it can activate the self-reward system. Is there really a connection between music and evolution? Ten years ago, scientists often spoke of music as an unusually successful by-product of evolution, a “spandrel”. Today, on the other hand, most researchers see a clear connection, but not at the individual level, but as a tool to strengthen and keep groups together, which in turn is important for survival.
How music can strengthen group cohesion and increase social capital. In a research review, he refers to a number of different research studies that show that music reinforces emotions and that there is a clear deviation in the bodily reactions when listening to music that stimulates, for example, sadness, happiness or fear. We also know from neurobiological experiments that if you stimulate different senses at the same time, effects can be amplified in the brain. If, while experiencing an image, you play music that suits the image, you can get a stronger reaction in the parts of the brain that are activated during image interpretation. And vice versa.
Music can play an important role in helping children, for example, learn to recognize their own emotions. There is great potential for good long-term effects here. If you are good at recognizing your own emotions, Having a good emotional differentiation, the ability to cope with difficult situations increases. Here, music is a very good help to become aware of their feelings. An individual who has never received help with emotional differentiation can become disabled, for example in stressful situations. Such a person may suffer from alexithymia (= not reading emotions) which also increases the risk of developing high blood pressure early.
Anyone who is good at recognizing and distinguishing their own feelings should also be good at recognizing the feelings of others. For social interaction, this is of crucial importance. According to Theorell, we then come to perhaps the most basic function that music has, namely that it can strengthen group cohesion and social interaction. This social function may well have had a survival value in our early history. He highlights this by commenting on the American social anthropologist and jazz musician, William Benzon, who believes that music is the most powerful thing we have created to be able to connect brains to each other.
Theorell goes on to say: “It is not difficult to imagine the important role that rites, dance and music must have played for people who lived in constant threat of being attacked by wildlife and other hostile groups of people in ‘primitive’ society. The fact that the individuals felt a strong sense of belonging to their group was, among other things, a prerequisite for them to participate in guard duty at night. Those who did not identify with the group may have decided to run away and ignore the group as the danger approached. Thus, that individual would increase the threat to the group and also in the long run reduce their own ability to survive. Maybe dance and music that strengthens group community should be seen in that perspective. ”