Listening to music, things happen to us. Small and big things. For example, a song that suddenly plays in the middle of an avenue, and that we had not heard for years, can transport us to the precise moment when we heard it for the first time. It can make us relive who we were with, vibrate with what we felt…
The experience is technically called “autobiographical memory evoked by music,” and it is extraordinarily common. After all, since music often accompanies many important life events (parties, graduations, weddings, and funerals), it can play an important role in reconnecting with the past.
Especially with shared past moments. Because, in the case of music, the saying that it is better alone than accompanied is not true. Quite the contrary, listening to music in a group has a doubly positive effect on our brain. The reason is explained in two strokes. On the one hand, listening to music activates neural circuits crucial for social understanding such as the prefrontal cortex or the insula. Additionally, hearing a melody causes the brain to produce dopamine (reward) and oxytocin (affection), which together can facilitate connection with other people.
Additionally, it has been shown that listening to music in a group reduces cortisol, a hormone whose release occurs in situations of stress.
Maybe that’s why those who sing about their evils are frightening. And whoever listens to music, in a certain way too. Having a song play is not only pleasant, but also therapeutic, given the enormous power they have to regulate our emotions. Some songs more than others, as is the case with those written by the brilliant Joan Manuel Serrat. That would explain why, although our survival does not depend on music, according to a recent study, adolescents and adults spend at least three hours a day listening to music.
Whether listening to Serrat, Rosalía, Taylor Swift or Pau Casals, do we know what exactly goes through our heads when the music plays? Recent research brought to light that our brain constantly predicts the next note, consciously in musicians and unconsciously in the rest of the population. And it seems that when we are correct in musical predictions, although without the song being excessively predictable, we experience more pleasure than when a melody throws us off.
And there is a lot written (and researched) about musical tastes. Scientists recently managed to explain why we tend to get hooked on the music we listened to in our youth. One of the reasons is that our brain has a greater capacity during these years to assimilate new sounds, something that is lost as we age.
Another mystery that has puzzled scientists until very recently is why many people feel good listening to songs full of sadness and melancholy. Apparently, it has to do with the fact that when we hear them we feel moved, especially if we are people with high empathy. This causes us to experience intense, pleasant and yet sad emotions at the same time. A paradox that explains why tearjerkers are so successful.