Music and the Brain 106

The psychology of music has been recognized and studied since ancient times, with Plato theorizing that different styles of music stirred different emotions in listeners. Pull up your favorite song or the soundtrack from a horror movie, and you’ll see that he was right. It’s easy to understand that music has a profound effect on us, but modern science has given us clearer glimpses at the neuroscience of music, and why and how music plays with our minds.

Our favorite songs arouse emotions, memories, and even physiological responses like dilated pupils and increased pulse and blood pressure. There is also increased activity in the cerebellum, the region of the brain associated with movement. Interestingly, these intense reactions occur just before our favorite parts of songs, in the so-called “anticipatory phase.” It’s conjectured that this build-up of anticipation, along with subverted expectations in musical patterns, is what primarily heightens our enjoyment and engages our brains.

Because of the ways music influences us, we can—and do—use music to achieve desired results! As music’s effects are more studied and better understood, we can use that information to “hack our brains” with powerful song choices.