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Why does listening to music evoke such passionate emotion in the individual?

Feb 11, 2020

Picture the scene. You're 16, your girlfriend has just dumped you, your heart is broken, you drive to the seaside, stare out to the horizon and listen to ‘Everybody Hurts’ by R.E.M. Why that song and who would be that pathetic and sensitive I hear you ask?

I was that forlorn young teen, and Michael Stipe, that day, was the painter of my sympathetic background. Surely listening to such a sad song in such a sad situation is a bad idea? It’s like throwing petrol (or my Dad’s half empty bottle of Old Spice aftershave, which probably explains the break-up) onto a fire. Actually, no. Listening to that music and those lyrics elevated my mood and cleansed me of my anguish. It was ethereal, maybe even spiritual (which is hard for an atheist to admit), but something in those chords, melodies and lyrics helped me that day.


Will music change my life?


Equally music can energise in other ways, like getting up in the morning. If you chose the right song, you’ll be bouncing down the street on the way to work. Who hasn’t pretended they are in a music video whilst walking down the road? And who hasn’t felt the hairs stand up on their necks when the music reaches that crescendo or the melody burrows deep within yourself and fills you with emotion? I know what you’re thinking? Someone give this guy some incense and a cuddle and a slap around the face. However, the point I am trying to make, is that music can be extremely powerful; it can change moods, perceptions and even lives, but how?


Well, first of all we must understand that human emotions aren’t straightforward; we can’t fit them like pegs into slots or work it out mathematically.


Are these ‘real human emotions’?


Interestingly, some scientist believe that the emotions we feel when listening to music are not necessarily typical human emotions, such as sadness and happiness. Instead, they believe that emotions are triggered through the anticipation of the music we are listening to. For example, if we listen to a piece of music and the melody heads in the direction we were expecting, then we feel happiness, but if that melody does some thing unexpected it can fill us with anxiety and stress.


We can argue this point though by adding in the physical changes we experience whilst listening to music. Heart rates for example can increase when listening to a fast tempo, and it has been said that heart rates synchronise when a large group of people attend an emotionally fuelled concert, though this needs to be researched in more depth.


Therefore, it’s a far more complicated topic than just relying on our anticipation of how a piece of music will flow. It’s also not a simple as sad music makes you sad and happy music makes you happy. Look at me for example, back on the seafront listening to R.E.M. The music was a release of emotions for me, which in turn lightened my move as the tension escaped my body.


Does this affect my brain?


Absolutely. Music triggers certain parts of the brain that can effect emotions. Take a look at this study which explains this in detail:


This trigger in the brain has also been suggested to be part of our evolution and our human instincts. It’s suggested that fast music evokes distant memories of chasing after the hunt, or being chased or even celebratory ancient tribal dances. It’s great to think that music is so important that it actually influenced our evolution into the people we are today, and that’s powerful stuff.


If you would like to put this to the test and find out how music can change you as a person, then visit our website or give us a call to book a session with us and release your inner Neanderthal.