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How Does Sound and Music Affect Our Brain: A Guide To Music's Psychological Triggering Of Emotions

Updated on February 9, 2016
Music can make you reflective or sad
Music can make you reflective or sad
Certain songs will make you happy and upbeat. Music expresses different emotions in different individuals.
Certain songs will make you happy and upbeat. Music expresses different emotions in different individuals.

Music Expresses Emotions

Why are we affected so deeply by music? The answer is as much simple as it is complicated. Music can be used to relax, incite, inspire, excite, an entire plethora of emotions can be surfaced or repressed by the use of music, which explains why music is so often used in various therapies and as special effects in movies. Yet, what exactly is music? How does our brain and body know that it needs to cry during a sad song, and it needs to “fist-pump” during an energetic one?

While the answer to the above questions is easily explained by neuroscience, various psychological factors come into play when we hear a song. The first of these is past experiences. For example, you might feel tempted to cry to a song that reminds you of a breakup in your past, but your friend, who has not experienced a breakup yet, is unaffected. This is the very simple essence of what musically triggered emotions comes down to when we look at the concept from eye level. Don’t worry, it gets a lot deeper.

The Science of Music

What actually happens in our brains when our emotions are released while we are listening to music, is much more complicated. Electrical impulse and converted sound vibrations are just the beginning of the madness that your brain must sort out and deal with. Your ears convert the sound waves into “ear movement” by vibrating certain parts of your ear, and this movement is translated into electrical signals that travel through the eighth cranial nerve (also known as the vestibulocochlear nerve), into the brain. The electrical impulses don’t stop there, rather, they travel throughout various parts of the brain until the reach the auditory cortex on both sides of the brain.

Which Hemisphere Are You?

Which hemisphere dominates you?

See results

The Left and Right Hemispheres

Although the subject of musical response is a fascinating one, not many experiments have been done to observe the response of the brain to different auditory externalities. (Feel free to be the first pioneer to make this statement false.) However, we are not completely clueless as to the effects. We know that both the right and left hemispheres are responsive to music. The right side “hears” the music and responds with “pure emotion” while the left side takes that emotion and attempts to explain why it is happening. Pure emotion is when you have no previous memories that would cause you to react a certain way to a song, but the song still affects you. To use the earlier example, you might have never experienced a breakup, but you might still sulk and feel gloomy when you hear a sad song even though no personal experience exists to back up the pure emotion. The left side of the brain then takes the pure emotion and tries to justify and explain why it is feeling the emotion (this is where your mind starts to wonder around and you begin to access the conscious part of your brain, searching for explanations that might or might not exist.) For example, you might have heard a country song when you were 8 years old at your grandmothers house, and now, 20 years later, you hear it again. The right side of your brain immediately associates the song with feelings that you feel toward your grandmother, while the left side thinks: “Where have I heard this song before? Where?! …Oh yes! My grandmother’s house, when I was a little kid!” Get the gist? “The right temporal lobe also deals with hearing. However, its job is to process musical information or help in the identification of noises. If this area is damaged, we might not be able to appreciate music or be able to sing.” (How The Brain Works)

The Parts of the Brain

One experiment attempted to prove that the temporal lobe involved in musical perception, and although the experiment succeeded in doing this, it failed to prove what role the area in question had in some aspect of music. It is clear that many parts of your brain are stimulated while you listen to your favorite Mozart song or while you dance in a club to Techno and House, but the function of each part of the brain when exposed to music, is unclear.

Try An Experiment

Sit back and listen to the various songs below. Do the tones or sounds express different emotions to you? Be aware that a person doesn't need to understand the words to a song to respond to it. A sad tone might be enough to provide a different emotional response.

Works Cited

"How the Brain Works." Traumatic Brain Injury. Web. 04 Mar. 2011. <http://www.tbiguide.com/howbrainworks.html>.

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    • profile image

      thor 

      5 years ago

      Interesting, its perfect research for my science fair project. My whole project is based off of this one page. Thanks a whole lot!

    • profile image

      dued 

      5 years ago

      i listen 2 hevy metal

    • Londonlady profile imageAUTHOR

      Laura Writes 

      6 years ago

      @spartucusjones: Haha! I feel like you would be an interesting test subject to perform an experiment with. Thank you for the comment

    • spartucusjones profile image

      CJ Baker 

      6 years ago from Parts Unknown

      Very informative hub!

      Also I listened to the 4 songs that you provide, and something weird happened psychology when I listened to the Alice Cooper song. All of a sudden I had the uncontrollable urge to start biting the heads off of live chickens.

    • wayseeker profile image

      wayseeker 

      6 years ago from Colorado

      I love looking at music and mind. I've done a fair amount of research on the subject, but none of it ever got quite so physiological. I love how you make it easy to understand.

      I definitely lean to the right in my brain, but it takes everything to make the music really speak.

      Thanks for a very informative hub!

      wayseeker

    • Londonlady profile imageAUTHOR

      Laura Writes 

      6 years ago

      Haha Jane, perhaps some relaxing music might help? Best of luck, try not to think about it too much and just let your brain do its thing.

    • profile image

      Jane 

      6 years ago

      wow thanks so much for this....its kinda awesome that your brain can do all this...my head hurts now!!

    • Londonlady profile imageAUTHOR

      Laura Writes 

      6 years ago

      @gbhjk Thank you! Will fix immediately

      @duke I'm glad you found this useful. Perhaps these will be of help too. http://scholar.google.com/scholar?q=music+therapy&...

    • profile image

      duke 

      6 years ago

      This is a really great work,i am actually writing about music therapy and your work has giving more to talk about. thanks and once again good job.

    • profile image

      gbhjk 

      6 years ago

      poll says Rigth after you vote

    • MSantana profile image

      MSantana 

      6 years ago from Madison Wisconsin

      Your brain in music is one of my favorite books.

    • Londonlady profile imageAUTHOR

      Laura Writes 

      7 years ago

      Ooookayyyy, random commentssss? Sure!

    • profile image

      ms yancos 

      7 years ago

      ily you guyzzz

    • profile image

      neesha 

      7 years ago

      me so hawt

    • profile image

      perry 

      7 years ago

      tara omg your words are so inspiring. beautiful girl. brough tears to my eyes. now i needa cuddle.

    • profile image

      perry 

      7 years ago

      wow i am soo touched thank you

    • profile image

      tara 

      7 years ago

      omg i love this sooo much

    • profile image

      LIVO 

      7 years ago

      SO BEAUTIFUL OMFG THANKYOU !

    • profile image

      grace 

      7 years ago

      very nice thankyou

      hey babe

    • profile image

      tara 

      7 years ago

      OMG ILY MUSIK

    • Londonlady profile imageAUTHOR

      Laura Writes 

      7 years ago

      I agree with you Midianite, I tried my own test, to listen to the 4 songs above and I wrote down what effect it was having on me. They each provoke different memories and experiences, music is mysterious :)

    • Midianite profile image

      Midianite 

      7 years ago from Australia

      Voted up. Awesome hub. Music truly can alter moods and speaks to the individual in a way that nothing else can. Great, well written hub.

    • Cogerson profile image

      UltimateMovieRankings 

      7 years ago from Virginia

      Voted up and awesome...really liked your experiment selection of videos..wide range of emotions..very informative and interesting....

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