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Page15 December 2012 at 11:49pmPosts: 814 (0 today)Status: offline
Why Music Moves Us
New research explains music's power over human emotions and its benefits to our mental and physical well-being
By Karen Schrock
As a recreational vocalist, I have spent some of the most moving moments of my life engaged in song. As a college student, my eyes would often well up with tears during my twice-a-week choir rehearsals. I would feel relaxed and at peace yet excited and joyful, and I occasionally experienced a thrill so powerful that it sent shivers down my spine. I also felt connected with fellow musicians in a way I did not with friends who did not sing with me.
I have often wondered what it is about music that elicits such emotions. Philosophers and biologists have asked the question for centuries, noting that humans are universally drawn to music. It consoles us when we are sad, pumps us up in happier times and bonds us to others, even though listening to an iPod or singing “Happy Birthday” does not seem necessary for survival or reproduction.
Some scientists conclude that music’s influence may be a chance event, arising from its ability to hijack brain systems built for other purposes such as language, emotion and movement. As Harvard University psychologist Steven Pinker famously put it in his 1997 book How the Mind Works (W. W. Norton), music is “auditory cheesecake,” a confection crafted to tickle the areas of the mind that evolved for more important functions. But as a result of that serendipity, music seems to offer a novel system of communication rooted in emotions rather than in meaning. Recent data show, for example, that music reliably conveys certain sentiments: what we feel when we hear a piece of music is remarkably similar to what everybody else in the room is experiencing.
Emerging evidence also indicates that music brings out predictable responses across cultures and among people of widely varying musical or cognitive abilities. Even newborn infants and people who cannot discern pitch enjoy music’s emotional effect. “Certainly music seems to be the most direct form of emotional communication,” opines renowned neurologist Oliver Sacks of Columbia University, author of the recent book Musicophilia (Knopf, 2007). “It really seems to be as important a part of human life and communication as language and gesture.”
Such dialogue provides a way for people to connect emotionally and thus may reinforce the ties that underlie the formation of human societies, which have clear survival advantages. Musical rhythms may have even facilitated certain physical interactions such as marching or dancing together, further cementing our social ties. In addition, tunes may work to our benefit on an individual level, manipulating mood and even human physiology more effectively than words can—to excite, energize, calm or promote physical fitness. All these benefits are causing people to reconsider whether music is truly as frivolous as it seems.
Mosaic in the Mind
Throughout recorded history, people have attempted to explain music’s sway over the human spirit. Music has been labeled everything from a gift of the heavens to a tool of the Devil, from an extension of mathematics to a side effect of language processing. Charles Darwin was famously stumped by music’s ubiquitous presence around the world: man’s predilection for music, he wrote in 1871 in The Descent of Man, “must be ranked among the most mysterious with which he is endowed.”
Since the 1950s many psychologists have attempted to explain music’s power by comparing music appreciation with speech. After all, an understanding of both music and speech requires, at its most primitive level, the ability to detect sounds. The brain’s auditory cortex, an area dedicated to hearing, is now known to process basic musical elements such as pitch (a note’s frequency) and volume; the neighboring secondary auditory areas digest more complex musical patterns such as harmony and rhythm
May I speak.16 December 2012 at 1:58pmPosts: 319 (0 today)Status: offline
This is summed up for me by the late Robert Nesta Marley, " One good thing about music when it hits you you feel no pain, so hit with music..."