Study Finds That Music Makes Our Brains Better

Science & Tech / Discoveries

Study Finds That Music Makes Our Brains Better

By: Chris O'Shea

Everyone loves music, even those who listen to the worst kinds, like Miley Cyrus and Lil Wayne. Something about hearing notes and melodies and the rest really gets people going. We cry when we hear Adele, we run faster when the Rocky soundtrack blasts in our ears. But why? Why does music impact us all on such a deep level? A team of neuroscientists might finally have figured it out. We enjoy music because our brain loves it and on some level, improves when experiencing it.

Valorie Salimpoor, a lead researcher at McGill University in Montreal, has been dedicating her life to why people enjoy music. Through her experiments, she found that when we listen to some tunes, the chemical "dopamine" is triggered. This is the same chemical that our brains are flooded with when we have sex or eat a fantastic burger. It's also the same thing that addicts can't get enough of. But Salimpoor noted something even deeper was happening when we listen to songs: We were connecting on an evolutionary level, thus our brains gained something.

Salimpoor and her team asked a group of 19 people to share what sort of music they listened to the most. The team then played them 30-second samples of about 60 different songs that they likely had never heard. Each person, while listening, was having their brains monitored. After the songs were done playing, Salimpoor asked the participants to bid on how much they'd pay for each song; the highest bid being two dollars.

What the scientists found was that the more the dopamine region of the brain (the amygdala) was triggered, the more likely people were to pay high amounts for the music. It's this combo that gets us excited about music. "When we’re listening to music, the most advanced areas of the brain tie in to the most ancient," Salimpoor wrote in her report.

She also said that when the music turned out to be "better" or different than the participants expected, it led to even more high bids. This is because our brains are guessing what will happen, and then gaining from the thought processes. "As an unfamiliar piece unfolds in time, our brains predict how it will continue to unfold," Salimpoor told Science. But when we're done listening to a new song, our brain is firing on all cylinders "because we’ve made a kind of intellectual conquest."

Salimpoor isn't done with her research. She is now going to investigate how past musical experiences influence what we enjoy in the future. No matter what she finds, we now have some proof that each time we listen to music, we are better for it. Yes, even Miley records. So go ahead, turn them up. Just not around us.

[Pic via Flickr - CarbonNYC]

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