Latest Posts • July 23 2021
Some love Mozart, some love AC/DC, and others love neither of those. But we all like music. Music accompanies us through our entire lives. As a lullaby in babyhood, as a participatory song in kindergarten. Maybe one day we learn to play an instrument ourselves. We go to concerts or at least sit in a bar for an evening or two while jazz, rock or funk plays in the background. Music influences our mood. It sets us in motion or makes us calm down. And our favorite songs give us goosebumps. But why is that actually the case? Why do we like music and what do we need it for?
High, but the harmless way
In fact, scientists have discovered that the reason for our love for music can be found in our brain. Because here, listening to music has a similar effect to eating – or to taking drugs. When we listen to music, the same receptors are stimulated and thus the same happiness-inducing neurotransmitters are released. So music can intoxicate us in the truest sense of the word. And without any side effects.
But it continues…
Music triggers so much more in our minds than the pure feelings of happiness. Another reason why music appeals to us so intensely is probably because musical sounds have similarities to the human language. The brain reacts to sequences of tones with an almost identical pattern of activity as when listening to speech. This was found in studies conducted by the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig. According to the researchers, our brain only makes an insignificant distinction between musical and linguistic information.
And finally, even when listening to someone speaking, it is ultimately the sentence melody that provides us with important information, makes us empathize with the speaker and triggers feelings. Even if we have absolutely no command of a language, we can pretty accurately classify whether a speaker is angry, sad or happy. Our auditory centers analyze incoming sounds in great detail via pitches and sequences. In this way, communication can also run smoothly on the social level and misunderstandings can be avoided. And where words are lacking, sounds can often better express what we feel – desire, happiness, love…
Why do we have different musical preferences?
But why do people have different musical preferences? Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so to speak, or rather: in the ear of the listener. Although our sense of hearing always works according to the same principle, the interpretation of what we hear is also partly a question of what we are used to or what we have learned. Whether we like a certain type of music or a certain song can therefore reveal a lot about us.
Scientists at the University of Cambridge have found that our taste in music even provides information about our way of thinking, whether we react to our environment more empathically or systemically-rationally, that is, in a planned and rational way.
4,000 subjects were asked to complete a detailed psychological questionnaire designed to assess personality and cognitive style. The study participants then listened to 50 pieces of music from 26 different musical genres and indicated how much they liked each piece.
The results showed that the test participants with high empathy scores preferred soft and unpretentious music with a sad theme and rather avoided intense styles. They liked melodic rock, pop, blues or Latin better than, for example, punk or heavy metal. On the other hand, people with a more systematic-rational disposition preferred more complex, loud, intense, and stimulating music. This picture emerged not only between different music genres, but also within the individual styles. Empathic people give preference to the metal ballad over pieces with more disharmonies.
This study shows: Music not only awakens feelings, it is also a mirror of our self. Music can show who we are. And those who come into contact with a wide variety of musical styles at an early age find it easier to find their personal musical expression.