Friday, November 13, 2020

The brain is a room

So science proves what we knew all along: when he hear our favorite song we're throwing a party in our head. French researchers say studies on the brain reveal that "many people go into pleasure overload when their favorite tunes start playing."
Researcher Thibault Chabin and a team at the Universit√© de Bourgogne Franche-Comt√© examined the brains of 18 people who regularly get these chills when listening to music. After answering a questionnaire about how much pleasure they get from music, each volunteer received an EEG brain scan. 
“Participants of our study were able to precisely indicate ‘chill-producing’ moments in the songs, but most musical chills occurred in many parts of the extracts and not only in the predicted moments,” says Chabin in a media release.
This all occurs in the orbitofrontal cortex, the region involved with emotional processing, "as well as in the supplementary motor area and the right temporal lobe, which handles auditory processing and musical appreciation on the right side of the brain."
All these regions work together to help humans process music, stimulate the brain’s reward centers, and release the “feel good” hormone dopamine. When you combine these reactions with the pleasurable anticipation of hearing your favorite chord strike in a song, the result is a tingly chill. This is a response that indicates greater connectivity in the cerebrum.
Chabin adds: “What is most intriguing is that music seems to have no biological benefit to us. However, the implication of dopamine and of the reward system in processing of musical pleasure suggests an ancestral function for music."
Study authors believe this inherited function tied to music may reveal the brain’s ability to predict future events. As humans wait for something they know is coming, the brain releases more dopamine.
Which is all well and good as I'm awaiting the guitar solo in "I Saw Her Standing There." When I know what's coming, and when what's coming is deeply pleasurable, I can virtually feel my kicking into gear, fooling me into believing that I'm elevating. Yet the brain's hard at work when I'm listening to devastatingly sad songs, too, and how much pleasure is at work then, when we sink into melancholy listening to those songs that soundtrack a bad break up, or griefs of other kinds. In a 2019 article in Psychology Today, Shahram Heshmat writes "At the biological level, sad music is linked to the hormone prolactin, which is associated with crying and helps to curb grief," adding, "Sad music tricks the brain into engaging a normal, compensatory response by releasing prolactin. In the absence of a traumatic event, the body is left with a pleasurable mix of opiates with nowhere else to go. Prolactin produces feelings of calmness to counteract mental pain." 

In addition to the release of prolactin, Heshmat outlines other reasons why we're, sometimes perversely, attracted to listening to sad songs, including the bittersweet indulgence of nostalgia, the experience of empathy, mood regulation, and the ability of a sad song to provide us with an imaginary friend. ("Music has the ability to provide company and comfort," Heshmat notes.) So there's a shiver in the brain there, too, when the chorus or bridge comes and with it an image in our brain that we wish we could shake, of others, or ourselves, behaving badly, the song a kind of theme to regret. 

The brain is a room and in that room stand all of our selves, the one leaping with joy and fist-pumping, the one slouched and blue. Both turn up the song so loud that the rafters in the room quake.

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