Brain playlist: why a song can generate 13 emotions and an infinite gallery of possible images

double exposure of man listening to headphones and cityscape, shenzhen, china

When we like a melody, the same stimuli are activated in the brain as when eating chocolate. It is known: music provokes emotions such as joy and sadness. And it evokes memories, that’s why it makes us cry or laugh. Music inspires and encourages us. And it also makes us travel to a moment or a place: how many times has it happened to us that we listen to this or that song that refers us -it seems that it takes us directly- to a certain moment of our lives?

Thousands of years ago, music has been a universal language that crosses cultures and generations. However, in the field of science, a range of amazing and not so well known possibilities is configured. To cite one of them, listening to music improves people’s emotional health. Without going further, During the pandemic, it was proven that he was a great ally when it came to coping with the confinement.

In a study involving 43 thousand people from twenty-one countries, the 87% He said that music helped his well-being during the health emergency caused by COVID-19. The document by the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI), Engaging With Music 2021, took an in-depth look at music listening habits around the world, and concludes that there was an increase in time spent listening to music during the pandemic. Music lovers spent an average of 18.4 hours a week listening to it in 2020an increase from the figure of 18 hours in 2019.

According to the opinions of 43,000 people in 21 countries, the largest study of its kind, which had the collaboration of Universities such as Cambridge, New York, Yale and Amsterdamamong a dozen other academic and research centers, They found that fans have not only been listening to more music, but also taking advantage of opportunities for new music and immersive experiences. They also noted a preference for local genres.

(False images)
(False images)

“Music evokes similar feelings in different cultures. There are studies done that find that music actually functions as a universal language. All genera that have been evaluated in different countries show similar patterns. have been detected until 13 feelings general: fun, joy, eroticism, beauty, relaxation, sadness, dreams, triumph, anxiety, fear, annoyance, challenge, and feeling pumped. These 13 feelings have been studied in a population close to between 2000 and 2500 individuals”, explains the infobae Alejandro Andersson, neurologist and medical director of the Buenos Aires Institute of Neurology.

In a recent note with this medium, Jorgelina Benavidez, music therapist of the INECO Music Therapy Team, expressed: “Music is for many a means to achieve, develop and sustain well-being, and this is an essential component of health. For several years now, the focus has not only been on deficits but on strengths and on the development of well-being; the more you cultivate, the less stress response you have and vice versa”.

images and sounds

However, another edge that opens up in relation to this scientific side of music is the images we “see” when we listen to a song. Yes, music could make us see things, at least from the imagination. Within the neuroscience scenario, the following question then appears: Are we all imagining the same thing when we listen to music, or are our experiences hopelessly subjective?

First of all it is necessary to know that music, considered among the elements that cause more pleasure in life, it releases dopamine in the brain just like food or sex does. “The auditory pathway carries the music from the ear to the auditory cerebral cortex, which interprets it, that of the intelligentsia. And so it projects it to the limbic system, to give it the musical emotion. That is where the endorphins and dopamine are, and also the associations with other parts of the brain such as the occipital lobe, which is the one that has the association with images in its cortex”, says Andersson.

music transports us
music transports us

To investigate the question of the images and experiences of each individual, an international team of researchers (including a classical pianist, a rock drummer and a bassist) he asked hundreds of people what stories they imagined when listening to instrumental music.

The results recently appeared in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The researchers, led by Elizabeth Margulis of Princeton and Devin McAuley of Michigan State University, they found that listeners in Michigan and Arkansas imagined very similar scenes, while listeners in China imagined completely different stories.

“These results paint a more complex picture of the power of music,” said Margulis, a professor of music who uses theoretical, behavioral, and neuroimaging methodologies to investigate the dynamic experience of listeners. “Music can generate remarkably similar stories in the minds of listeners, but the degree to which these imagined narratives are shared depends on the degree to which culture is shared among listenershe added.

622 Study participants came from three regions on two continents: two suburban college towns in the central United States, one in Arkansas and the other in Michigan, and a cluster of Dimen, a town in rural China where the main language is Dong, a tonal language unrelated to Mandarin, and where residents have little access to Western media.

Going to the examples of the study, a musical passage identified only as W9 brought to mind a sunrise over a forest, with animals waking up and birds singing for American listeners, while those of Dimen represented a man blowing a leaf on a mountain. , singing a song to his beloved
Going to the examples of the study, a musical passage identified only as W9 brought to mind a sunrise over a forest, with animals waking up and birds singing for American listeners, while those of Dimen represented a man blowing a leaf on a mountain. , singing a song to his beloved

All three groups of listeners, in Arkansas, Michigan and Dimen, heard the same 32 musical stimuli: 60-second snippets of instrumental music, half Western music and half Chinese music, all without lyrics. After each musical excerpt, they provided free-response descriptions of the stories they imagined. Arkansas and Michigan listeners described very similar stories, often using the same words, while Dimen listeners imagined stories similar to each other but very different from those of American listeners.

what do people see

Turning to the examples, a musical passage identified only as W9 brought to mind a sunrise over a forestwith animals waking up and birds singing for American listeners, while Dimen’s depicted a man blowing a leaf on a mountain, singing a song to his beloved.

For the musical passage C16, listeners in Arkansas and Michigan described a cowboy, sitting alone in the desert suncontemplating an empty city, the participants in Dimen imagined a man in ancient times sadly contemplating the loss of his beloved.

“Is incredible”, said co-author Benjamin Kubit, a drummer and postdoctoral research associate formerly at the Princeton Neuroscience Institute and now in the Department of Music. “You can pick two random people who grew up in a similar environment, have them listen to a song they haven’t heard before, ask them to imagine a narrative, and you’ll find similarities. However, if those two people don’t share a culture or geographic location, you won’t see the same kind of similarity in experience. So while we imagine that music can bring people together, the opposite can also be true: it can distinguish between sets of people with different backgrounds or cultures.”

Margulis, said: “I am amazed that some of these hard-to-articulate, visceral, imagined responses we have to music can be widely shared. There’s something about that that’s really unnerving and compelling, especially since the way we find ourselves with music in 2022 is often solitary, with headphones. But it turns out that it’s still a shared experience, almost like a shared dream.”

Co-author Cara Turnbull, a concert bassist turned musicology graduate student, said: “It’s just fascinating how much our upbringing shapes us as individuals. and at the same time it gives us enough common experiences that relate us to this medium in ways that are simultaneously unique and shared”.

According to Andersson, too, We are creating a kind of cerebral “playlist” throughout our lives. Depending on our education and intellectuality, we can access a series of images when we listen to music.

“What the person who listens to a melody imagines and interprets and the pictures that he represents to himself, it is shown that they clearly depend on how they have grown, how they have been formed, and what culture they have inside their brain. Because he has to make associations between what he hears and his experiences, his experiences. Therefore, the images are very different compared to the same melody in people who have different cultures. As we go from the most biological to the most cognitive or cultural, differences arise”, explained Andersson.

María Inés Buongiorno, a graduate in Music Therapy (UBA), certified therapist in the Bonny Method of Imagery Guided with Music by the Atlantis Institute (USA) Fellow of the Association for Music and Imagery, explains from her area: “From music therapy as a discipline in the health field, we use the connection of music with images, or the images that can arise from listening to music, to work on processes that have therapeutic objectives.

One of these approaches is called imagery with music. “From being in a state of relaxation and listening to previously selected music, the person’s connection with their spontaneous imagery is fostered. This imagery process acts as a communicator of the person’s internal process. So, that imagery can come to represent memories, fantasies, emotions, significant information for the person, and he accesses that information through the images that he experiences when he listens to the music.“Continue Good morning.

And he added: “It is precisely a way of reflecting on the internal world of people and allowing the person to perceive from another perspective. Music therapy uses this resource to work with therapeutic resources”.


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