Your brain on music

If making music is not the most ancient of human activities, it’s got to be pretty close. But only recently, neuroscientist are able to measure how music affects the brain.

In our appreciation of music, three chemicals are playing a leading role.

Dopamine, serotonine and oxytocine are so-called neurotransmitters. Working as messengers, they deliver information from one cell to the other. Doing so, neurotransmitters help to regulate about every function in our life.

A rush of dopamine in the head

If you know of one neurotransmitter, it’s this one. Dopamine is central to our reward-system, releasing signals when we experience pleasure. As such, dopamine motivates repeating action toward goals that give us joy – or help us to survive.

This system also gets into play when we enjoy a piece of music. As we’ve evolved by detecting patterns in the world around us, we try to predict how the music will unfold.

Composers play with these patterns in a game of expectation.

The predictions we make are dependent on the culture we’ve grown into. But if a piece of music develops in a way that’s both novel and still in line with our prediction, we tend to like it very much. Our brain feels like we’ve made a kind of intellectual conquest and starts firing dopamine as a reward. This is why some songs stick, and other don’t.

Come together

Oxytocine regulates social interaction and sexual reproduction. Also known as “the love hormone”, it works to foster trust and pro-social behaviour.

It turns out that listening or performing music in groups leads to an increase in oxytocin. As a result, this improves our ability to trust and act generous towards others. Factors that boost social cohesion.

Music is not a universal language, but lets us connect without it.

This might explain why music is so often used in social situations. Why we experience a strong sense of community when singing together or being at a large concert. It’s why the chanting in your yoga-class makes actual sense. And by the way, it also hints at the possible survival value of engaging in musical activities.

Don’t worry be happy

Serotonin is our mood-regulator. The happy chemical. We tend to feel relaxed and focused when our serotonin levels are high. But when our brains are low on serotonin, we’re more likely to become irritable and anxious.

It’s shown that listening to pleasant music increases our serotonin levels. We’ve all experienced it. Elevating our mood by listening to music that reminds us of a happy period in our lives. Or putting on some relaxing tunes to stay more focussed.

When music hits you, you feel no pain.

This is why after a bad day at work, you prefer to play your favourite tunes over hearing some new stuff. And why hospitals around the world are using music to put patients at ease before surgery. Or even help them to cope with pain.

Music therapy for your brand

We’re not replacing medicine with playlists anytime soon. But it’s clear that music has strong effects on our well-being. This holds true for your brand too.

You can build a community around your product by choosing the right music. Tag your brand with a positive vibe. Or engage with a dedicated composer if you want your message to stick.

So, what about a musical check-up for your brand? No worries, it won’ hurt. And we’re pretty sure your brain will reward you for it.