Music and science



There’s nothing like the first time you hear an epic jam. The first verse fades in, the bass starts kicking, the beat ramps up and the melody floods over you, sending chills down your spine and rousing you to bob your head in pure euphoria (and possibly embark on a fist-pumping frenzy if the song is truly transcendent). You find that the pulse of the song consumes you, pulling you out of reality and into a vacation of rhythmic bliss. And you never want to leave.

However, fast-forward to five years later when you’re sitting in a restaurant, and the jam is back. It radiates out of the speakers, sending you in a fit of nostalgia right back to a reverie of the good times you used to have together. How does music induce such profound effects on our sense of self, and why are we so enraptured by certain songs and not others?



Your Brain on Music

Your brain is responsible for creating the intense inner reactions you feel upon hearing a tune. When you hear music that you prefer, your defauld mode network (DMN), which connects many brain regions in a system, is most connected. The DMN is associated with introspection, self-awareness, reflection, daydreaming, recalling memories and envisioning the future—its forte is in creating your personal, autobiographical, dreamy perception of life. When you hear a song that makes you feel some type of way, the activation of the DMN is in full swing. It creates an enhanced connection to the music, as if the song is being written into the diary of your life.

At the same time, while the DMN is activated, the task positive network (TPN), which is involved with goal-oriented activities in the outside world, is shut down. This further explains why focus on your immediate environment fizzles out when you’re enamored with what you’re listening to. The outside world dissipates as you drink up the music, reflect on it and internalize it.

And when you hear a song that makes you feel especially outta this world, your brain concocts a smoothie of feel good neurochemicals, like dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin. Dopamine is especially addictive, which explains why you can’t get enough of a jiggy song during its honeymoon period.



Why You Like What You Like

Why are you in love with pop, but utterly disgusted by country? Or why are you obsessed with “Sorry” by Justin Bieber, but detest the rest of his musical repertoire?

Your preferences can be explained by many different factors, and one of which has to do with the musical experiences you have during your “reminiscence bump,” which is from ages twelve to twenty-two. This time period is characterized by behind-the-scenes rapid neurological development (thanks, adolescent hormones), accompanied by a whirlwind of emotionally charged “firsts,” like your first kiss, first concert, first move away from home and first breakup.

You become more aware of music during these tumultuous times, and you become more intentional with your music choices, thinking things like “Oh, the woes of my life. I shall listen to emo music to funnel my rage” and “OMG, I think Johnny has a crush on me. I will fanatically listen to ‘Call Me Maybe’ while daydreaming over our imminent love story.” Other less obvious factors also play into your preferences during this time as well, like what your parents play around the house and what your friends expose you to.

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