Music plays an important role in our lives. It has the ability to heal us mentally and emotionally. For centuries, we have used the form of art to express our emotions as well as escape from reality. It can make us forget the things we want to forget and remember the good times we wish to remember. All in all, music can touch our soul. Sometimes, specific songs can cause us to have goosebumps or give us the chills. If that has ever happened to you, then this could mean you experience more intense emotions. Scientists at the University of Southern California conducted a study, and found that those with this unique trait have a unique brain.
Researchers at the University of Southern California examined the brain scans of 20 students, half of whom had intense reactions to music and half who didn’t.
Not everyone reacts to music the same way. For some, listening to a certain track can cause goosebumps to appear on their skin. A new study, published in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, found that there’s a deeper reason for this than simply appreciating music.
Of the 20 students, 10 of them experienced a unique feeling while listening to certain songs. The other half reported that they have never had any such experiences with music, where it connected with them. Researchers used Diffusion Tensor Imaging (DTI) — MRI scans which map out the brain — to examine what the difference was with the two groups.
Surprisingly, the MRI scans showed that those who had goosebumps while listening to music had a denser volume of brain fibers that connect the sections that process auditory information and emotions. Matthew Sachs, a co-author of the study from the University of Southern California, explains that the more fiber one has connecting the two sections, the more efficient they are at processing auditory information and emotions.
Matthew Sachs also went on to note that such people also experience intense emotions in real-life, and not just when they are listening to music.
“Emotional reactions to aesthetic stimuli are intriguing experiences to humans as they are profoundly pleasurable and rewarding, yet highly individualized,” the study says. “Finding the behavioral and neural differences between individuals who do and do not experience such reactions may help gain a better understanding of the reward circuitry and the evolutionary significance of aesthetics for humans.”
Goosebumps are in fact a fight or flight response exhibited by our bodies.
According to Professor William Griffith, the head of neuroscience and experimental therapeutics at the Texas A&M College of Medicine, when our bodies have intense emotions towards something such as listening to music, adrenaline is released; which races throughout our bodies. This is actually a fight or flight response that is triggered when we are scared or feeling threatened.
Our bodies put us through this process in order to defend itself or run away. Listening to your favorite songs or watching your favorite scene from a movie can also cause this similar reaction. Scientists are unsure as to why our bodies do this but they do however, have some theories. One theory suggests that the adrenaline release could be linked to a surge of dopamine, one hormone involved in the body’s reward response.
Another study performed by researchers at the University of York, discovered that music could help us manage our emotions.
Researchers at York wanted to know if music had the ability to help us cope with our emotions. Although we know that it can, they wanted to prove it scientifically. In order to do so, the team used selected pieces of music for their subjects and tested to see if it had the ability to invoke an emotional response but also be enjoyed at the same time. At the end of the study, they concluded that “sad songs counter-intuitively could make people happier”.
“One of the most important motivations to engage in music listening is its emotional effect on us,” the team wrote on the York website.
“Listeners often report that they listen to music to calm them down, to stimulate them, to bring them into a positive mood, or to experience emotions like melancholy or nostalgia. Therefore, listening to the sound of music is a unique way to experience and engage with different contrasting emotions, helping us to understand and regulate our mood according to many different situations. This makes music an important part of our overall mental wellbeing.”
In conclusion, science has shown us that music can override the negative impact of feeling sad and actually allow us to enjoy this emotion in a safe environment. The study also found that people who are open to experience – as well as people who have more musical training – are more likely report strong emotional responses.