December 2019 Newsletter: Why You Feel What You Hear

It’s a favorite time of year for many – the holidays are in full force and the much-anticipated season of giving has commenced. Even though much of the world celebrates the holiday season in a variety of ways, there is always a sense of unity that brings everyone together. Regardless of drastically different climates, time zones, or celebrations, this togetherness is often derived from one key element that thrives in this season – music. The connection between music and emotion is something many have tried to understand in the field known as psychoacoustics. Read on to learn more about the relationship between what you hear and how you feel.

This time of year, shopping destinations and entertainment districts are saturated with seasonal jingles and familiar holiday songs. Typically, this genre of music triggers distinct emotions, such as joy, eagerness, or a recollection of fond memories; conversely, negative reactions such as sadness or reclusion may also be felt depending on one’s association with the season. This isn’t exclusively true of holiday music, however. Specific songs or sounds can trigger the same neural activity and elicit powerful emotions or thoughts any time of year. Music affects brain function and human behavior by reducing stress, pain, and symptoms of depression while improving cognitive and motor skills, spatial-temporal learning, and neuron production. A few of the major components of the human brain that music impacts are the frontal lobe, temporal lobe, cerebellum, nucleus accumbens, amygdala, and hippocampus.

The frontal lobe of the brain is responsible for controlling important cognitive skills in humans; as such, it is commonly thought of as the most important. Music has been found to enhance its function and greatly aid in thinking and decision making. Maybe it’s not a bad thing that everyone is plugged into headphones at work.

The temporal lobe processes input from the ears into meaningful information. It allows us to make sense of all the different sounds and rhythms associated with music and lets us appreciate our favorite songs. The cerebellum coordinates movement and stores physical memory. This part of the brain allows musicians to form muscle memory, so they can play a complicated score without needing to look at sheet music.

The nucleus accumbens is a curious part of the brain, as it controls the release of dopamine, mediating rewarding experiences. Music increases dopamine levels, similar to illicit drugs, and can be thought as a drug in this sense…and much less dangerous to your body!

The amygdala processes and triggers emotions. Music can control this part of the brain triggering fear, adrenaline, or even the shivers and goose bumps felt while listening to a thrilling melody. Lastly, the hippocampus produces and retrieves memories and regulates emotional responses. Through music, the hippocampus can generate the emotional responses associated with specific songs or memories.

The next time your favorite holiday jingle comes onto the air, remember that everything you feel is a product of biology. Sharing your favorite songs with your friends unifies the experience, making the holiday season that much more special. Happy Holidays from Metropolitan Acoustics!

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