Medical Mysteries of Music

Neuroscientists discover how music makes us want to dance.

Music and our brains have a complex and fascinating relationship that scientists are always investigating. This latest bit of neuroscience comes out of the University of Turku in Finland.

Volunteers were placed in an fMRI machine which allowed scientists to see which parts of their brains lit up when certain types of music were played. They found that when happy or sad music is played, the auditory cortex (the part of the brain that processes sound) and the motor cortex (which controls movement) were both activated. They could also map parts of the brain that indicated the rise of emotions as the music played.

I quote from Oxford Academic: “Music can induce strong subjective experience of emotions, but it is debated whether these responses engage the same neural circuits as emotions elicited by biologically significant events. We examined the functional neural basis of music-induced emotions in a large sample of subjects who listened to emotionally engaging pieces of instrumental music while their haemodynamic brain activity was measured with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).”

By looking at the brain scans, the scientists could tell if the volunteer was listening to either happy or sad music. And even though the participants were lying still, the motor cortex still lit up, indicating a relationship between music, emotion, and the need to move with the music. In other words, dancing–indicating a stronger-than-expected connection between the audio and motor cortexes.

They tried the same thing with film and video images but with completely different results. There was something special about the brain’s reaction to music. Research continues.

(Via The Daily Mail)

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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