How does music affect our emotions?

December 27, 2022

Santiago Lagier

How does music affect our emotions?

A research study published in Nature Neuroscience aims to understand why music affects our mood. The areas of the brain involved have also been revealed.

It's seven in the morning. Your radio starts playing, and you hear the first chords of that song you love so much. It's inevitable. Starting a Monday like this improves things. Music affects our emotions, the way we approach our days, and even our mood. What makes it such a powerful tool that conditions how we feel in such a profound way?

Researchers from California published their findings in the journal Science regarding the importance and relationship between the nucleus accumbens and the auditory cortex when we listen to a song. Using the technique known as magnetic resonance imaging, scientists sought to understand what happens in our brain when we hear music.

Our emotional state can be altered by music. Now, researchers from the University of Pennsylvania in the United States have gone a step further. Through their work published in the journal Nature Neuroscience, they have tried to find out how music affects our emotions. It's an experience we live daily, but scientists have only a few clues about it.

The team led by Maria Neimark Geffen aimed to understand the mechanism by which certain sounds or songs could alter our emotional state. This fact is not irrelevant, as there are truly traumatic cases where it would be helpful to know more about the neurological processes that take place.

For example, many war veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress, even after returning from the conflict zone, still associate noises or sounds like thunder with unpleasant emotions and sensations reminiscent of the battlefield. Understanding how to activate or deactivate this mental association could be a valuable therapeutic tool for affected individuals.

To conduct their research, the scientists carried out a series of experiments on mice to determine how their auditory acuity could change if they experienced a traumatic episode. This phenomenon, known in neuroscience as emotional learning, can help understand why music affects our emotions.

With this goal in mind, the American researchers subjected the mice to what is known as classical conditioning or Pavlovian conditioning. This form of associative learning is based on an old idea by Aristotle, who stated that when two things usually occur together, the appearance of one will bring the other to mind.

If, after overcoming a traumatic episode, the animals changed their auditory acuity in a way that allowed them to differentiate between potentially dangerous sounds and relaxing sounds, this could provide valuable insights into how emotional learning works. By repeating highly specific learning experiments involving sounds, the scientists observed that emotional and acuity development responses were also more specific, particularly when the frequencies of the two analyzed sounds were similar.

Lastly, the researchers were able to not only analyze how music affects our emotions but also identify the brain regions activated during this emotional learning. Although the effects of this process on perception and auditory acuity are specific to the auditory cortex, it is not the brain region directly involved in emotional learning.

In this important biological process, which partly mediates how music affects our emotions, two regions are involved: the amygdala and subcortical auditory areas. Many more studies are needed to understand the relationship between the auditory cortex and the amygdala, but it is certain that sounds play a significant role in our mood and emotional reactions.

These are questions that, although science takes time to answer, are truly intriguing in our daily lives. How does the music you listen to affect you?

Source: Alt1040