“Music affects deep emotional centers in the brain. A single sound tone is not really pleasurable in itself; but if these sounds are organized over time in some sort of arrangement, it’s amazingly powerful.” Neuroscientist Valorie Salimpoor
While listening to their favorite piece of music, Salimpoor and her colleagues hooked participants up to an fMRI machine and recorded their brain activity. Well, surprise, surprise (winks at Ark). During peak emotional moments in the songs identified by the listeners, dopamine (a neurotransmitter) was released in the nucleus accumbens. The NA is a structure deep within an older part of our brain.
The caudate nucleus, another part of the brain which is involved in the anticipation of pleasure, also releases dopamine just before those peak emotional moments in a song.
According to the study, “Anatomically distinct dopamine release during anticipation and experience of peak emotion to music” published in the journal Nature Neuroscience, music can arouse feelings of euphoria and craving, similar to tangible rewards that involve the striatal dopaminergic system such as sex, drugs, and food. Another interesting finding suggests that the interactions between the nucleus accumbens and the auditory cortex creates expectations of how musical sounds should unfold based on what is learned and stored in our auditory cortex. Our emotions result from the violation or fulfillment of these expectations.
When Music Makes Love Using Emotive Language Without Conceptual Content
One of my favorite post-rock bands is from Iceland. Sigur Rós. In some of their songs they use non-literal language that forms the unintelligible “lyrics” sung by the band.
It’s called Hopelandic (English translation), a.k.a., Vonlenska. It consists of emotive, non-lexical vocables. In effect, Hopelandic (Vonlenska) uses the melodic and rhythmic elements of singing without the conceptual content of language.
This type of music has no fixed syntax and differs from constructed languages that can be used for communication. It focuses entirely on the sounds of language, lacking grammar and distinct words.
This track below, “Milan”, is one of those tunes that resonates with every cell in my body. Seriously, there are no words to describe how it makes me feel during those peaks of non-lexical passion.
Album Title “Takk…” (translation- “Thanks…”)
Another example of emotive, non-lexical vocables would be from one of my all-time favorites — The Great Gig in the Sky, by Pink Floyd.
In a study, “From Vivaldi to Beatles and back: predicting lateralized brain responses to music”, participants were also hooked up to monitor brain activity. The researchers introduced different styles of songs. They found that music impacts multiple centers of the brain simultaneously. Each style of music made its own pattern.
Uptempo songs created one kind of pattern while slower songs create another, lyrical songs, another, and so on. Remarkably, even if people didn’t like the songs or didn’t have a lot of musical expertise, their brains still looked surprisingly similar to the brains of people who did.
Humans are constantly making reward-related predictions to survive. Now we have neurobiological evidence showing that people also make predictions when listening to music, even if we’ve never heard the music before. When arranged together, pattern recognition and prediction of an otherwise simple set of stimuli can become so powerful that it makes us happy or bring us to tears, as well as communicate and experience some of the most intense, complex emotions and thoughts.
Benjamin Britten, an English composer, conductor and pianist, once said:
“It is cruel, you know, that music should be so beautiful. It has the beauty of loneliness of pain: of strength and freedom. The beauty of disappointment and never-satisfied love. The cruel beauty of nature and everlasting beauty of monotony.”
Gotta mindgasm tune you’d like to share?
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