What’s the Connection Between Music and Our Emotions?

Why do we like/need/crave music so much? The BBC takes a look:

Q: Why does music have a hotline to our emotions? What is the evolutionary advantage of this?
Philip Le Riche, via email

David Robson, BBC Future feature writer, answers:

Who hasn’t ever felt a song pulling at their heartstrings? Whether it is the feeling of euphoria in a club, or a lonely cry to a heartbreaking ballad, music can cut us to the core, expressing emotions more eloquently than words ever can.

But as our reader, Philip, points out, the reasons for this are far from obvious. “It’s clear to me the appeal of rhythm, and I get all the stuff about anticipation, surprise and fulfilment of expectations. These all help to explain why music is interesting – but why it moves us at such a deep level remains a mystery to me,” he explained in an email to the BBC Future team.

Posing this question puts Philip in good company. Even the father of evolutionary theory, Charles Darwin, was stumped by our musical faculty, calling it one of “the most mysterious with which [humankind] is endowed”. Some thinkers, such as the cognitive scientist Steven Pinker, have even questioned whether it has any particular value at all. In his view, we like music because it tickles some of the more important faculties, like pattern recognition. By itself, he says, it has no value – it is mere “auditory cheesecake”.

Keep going for the answer.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ 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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