Ever wonder just why some music makes you feel so good? Virginia Hughes reports on some super-interesting new neuroscience research by Valorie Salimpoor at her National Geographic blog: Only Human
There’s quite a bit of nitty-gritty brain science at play here, but here’s the highlights:
The Big Questions: The major mystery in the biology of music is “why?” How do mere vibrations in the air bring on such deep emotional responses? Did this have any influence on our evolution, or is it just a side effect of the myriad of tweaks and evolutionary forces that made us human?
What They Found: When test subjects listened to songs they had never heard before and asked whether they wanted to buy them, they engaged brain pathways involved in reward, pleasure, memory, prediction and judgment. When we hear new music, we appear to call upon “templates” for what we like in our memory. Then regions involved in prediction and judgment decide how much it fits our expectations, and searches for a “Goldilocks zone” of novelty and familiarity. If it fits, then we get a rush of pleasure in the brain’s reward pathway.
What Questions Remain: Why do people with similar exposures have such different tastes? How similar and different can things be before they become pleasurable/not pleasurable?
New music is a series of memory, prediction, judgment and pleasure. It’s a whole-brain activity, and it’s a uniquely and wonderfully human experience.
I highly recommend checking out Ginny’s full article. This is fascinating stuff. There will be an episode of It’s Okay To Be Smart all about music and evolution in the near future. Stay tuned!