April 27, 2013 | 21,317 views |

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By Dr. Mercola

If you’re a music lover, you already know that turning on the tunes can help calm your nerves, make stress disappear, pump up your energy level during a workout, bring back old memories, as well as prompt countless other emotions too varied to list.

Even if you’re not a music aficionado, per se, there are compelling reasons why you may want to become one, which were recently revealed by a series of new research.

Music Prompts Numerous Brain Changes Linked to Emotions and Abstract Decision Making

listen_musicWhen you listen to music, much more is happening in your body than simple auditory processing. Music triggers activity in the nucleus accumbens, a part of your brain that releases the feel-good chemical dopamine and is involved in forming expectations.

At the same time, the amygdala, which is involved in processing emotion, and the prefrontal cortex, which makes possible abstract decision-making, are also activated, according to new research published in the journal Science.1

Based on the brain activity in certain regions, especially the nucleus accumbens, captured by an fMRI imager while participants listened to music, the researchers could predict how much money the listeners were willing to spend on previously unheard music. As you might suspect, songs that triggered activity in the emotional and intellectual areas of the brain demanded a higher price.

Interestingly, the study’s lead author noted that your brain learns how to predict how different pieces of music will unfold using pattern recognition and prediction, skills that may have been key to our evolutionary progress. Time reported:2

These predictions are culture-dependent and based on experience: someone raised on rock or Western classical music won’t be able to predict the course of an Indian raga, for example, and vice versa.

But if a piece develops in a way that’s both slightly novel and still in line with our brain’s prediction, we tend to like it a lot. And that, says [lead researcher] Salimpoor, ‘is because we’ve made a kind of intellectual conquest.’

Music may, in other words, tap into a brain mechanism that was key to our evolutionary progress. The ability to recognize patterns and generalize from experience, to predict what’s likely to happen in the future — in short, the ability to imagine — is something humans do far better than any other animals. It’s what allowed us (aided by the far less glamorous opposable thumb) to take over the world.”

Why Music Makes Us Feel United

So far we’ve covered that music is involved in both emotional and intellectual centers of your brain, but music also has an, almost uncanny, ability to connect us to one another.

Separate research published this month showed one reason for why this might be. When listening to four pieces of classical music they had never heard before, study participants’ brains reacted in much the same way. Areas of the brain involved in movement planning, memory and attention all had similar activation patterns when the participants listened to the same music, which suggests we may each experience music in similar ways.

The study’s lead author noted:3

“We spend a lot of time listening to music — often in groups, and often in conjunction with synchronized movement and dance … Here, we’ve shown for the first time that despite our individual differences in musical experiences and preferences, classical music elicits a highly consistent pattern of activity across individuals in several brain structures including those involved in movement planning, memory and attention.”

Co-author Daniel Levitin, PhD, expanded:4

“It’s not our natural tendency to thrust ourselves into a crowd of 20,000 people, but for a Muse concert or a Radiohead concert we’ll do it … There’s this unifying force that comes from the music, and we don’t get that from other things.”

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