I was listening to a Hidden Brain broadcast recently during which a particular fact jumped out at me: Researchers have been able to stimulate a part of the brain and influence the role of beliefs in moral judgments about harming others. They also noted that people are more ‘tolerant’ of others’ actions when they feel good as represented by the way their beliefs change when smelling baking cookies.
They didn’t mention music. But that wasn’t the intention of the program. One of the very first ways we notice the effects of music is that it makes us feel better. And when you feel better you are more tolerant. Start with lullabies and childhood songs and transition all the way until old age when we are listening
to music that was popular in our teens and 20s. As the philosopher Nietzche said: Without music life would be a mistake. We all use music to better our lives: emotionally, physically, spiritually.
The same brain chemistry is involved whether smelling cookies, watching kittens and puppies play, falling in love or playing your favorite music: the release of dopamine.
Other researchers have been pinpointing the multiple areas of the brain that get stimulated when listening to music -9 so far, and the list keeps growing! As one physician has said: Music stimulates more areas of the brain than any thing else we know. It can affect your cognition, movement, memory, blood pressure and heart rate, respiration and oxygen levels, hormones
and other biochemical processes, meditation and connection with the Divine.
Which brings us to Shakespeare: Music is a double edged sword.
So if music we like releases dopamine, what are we doing to our brains when we listen to music we don’t like?
I have personally become nauseous when walking through a mall where there is overhead music and each store is broadcasting their own music out the doors. I become irritated with heavy metal music and acid rock. I can easily get a headache with too much electronic ‘soothing’ music.
Music, then, has a greater potential for chemical change than just making us feel good.
With so much of it available these days, we need to be careful with our music diet. Streaming services are like fast food - it may fill the void in the short run, but harmful in the long if not used wisely.
Perhaps in a future blog I will talk about a healthy music diet!