Friday, April 19, 2024
Science explains why music creates wonder and awe.

Science explains why music creates wonder and awe.

When people listen to music, their brain waves can synchronize

Listening to music has a unique power to create a sense of connection and wonder among people. Research has shown that when individuals listen to the same song, their brain waves can synchronize. This phenomenon allows people to feel a deep connection to one another and the music they are experiencing. This summer, I had the opportunity to attend the Montreal Jazz Festival and witness firsthand the power of music to unite people from diverse backgrounds. As I listened to jazz, rock, blues, and various musical mashups, I was reminded of how magnificent music has been in my own life.

The impact of music on the brain and body

I couldn’t help but wonder why music has such a profound effect on our emotions and overall well-being. To gain a better understanding, I reached out to neuroscientist Daniel Levitin, who conducts brain scans on individuals while they listen to music. Levitin explains that music evokes a sense of wonder and awe by activating specific neural circuits associated with pleasure and reward. When we listen to music we enjoy, brain areas such as the amygdala, ventral tegmental area, and the nucleus accumbens are engaged. These same areas are activated when we experience pleasure through activities like drinking when thirsty or engaging in sexual activities. The brain releases chemicals that are involved in feelings of pleasure and reward, such as dopamine and opioids.

Moreover, listening to music can synchronize the firing of neurons in the brain with the beat of the music. This synchronization helps individuals feel connected to one another, as their brain waves align when they listen to the same song. Levitin recalls the phrase from the ’60s, “Hey, I’m on the same wavelength as you, man,” and notes that it is literally true when it comes to music’s impact on brain waves.

The calming and transcendent effects of music

Music not only stimulates pleasure and reward centers in the brain but also has a calming effect on the body. It can slow down our heart rate, deepen our breathing, and reduce stress hormones, which leads to a greater sense of connection with others and our surroundings. Dancing together to music intensifies this feeling of connection, as it symbolizes something vast and mysterious for us. Dacher Keltner, a psychologist from the University of California, Berkeley, explains that music triggers transcendent emotions like awe, which sparks a sense of wonder in the brain. This counteracts the prevalent issue of loneliness in today’s society and fosters a sense of community, ultimately benefiting our health and well-being.

Keltner suggests that music’s powerful role in religions, spirituality, and rituals could be attributed to its ability to evoke these transcendent emotions. Music allows individuals to feel connected to something greater than themselves and contributes to their survival by enhancing feelings of unity and belonging.

The perspective of a musician

Curious to know if musicians experience the same sense of wonder when playing music, I spoke with Mike Gordon, the bass player for the band Phish. Gordon confirms that he regularly feels a sense of wonder while making music. Playing instruments opens neural pathways and heightens his sensations, making him present in the moment and fully engaged. According to Gordon, the air around him almost crystallizes, intensifying his awareness of his surroundings. He describes a state of hypersensitivity and a feeling of being electrified. This firsthand account reinforces the notion that music has a profound impact on individuals, including the musicians themselves.

In conclusion, music has a remarkable ability to synchronize brain waves, evoke a sense of wonder, and promote connections among individuals. It possesses the power to calm the body, stimulate pleasure centers in the brain, and foster transcendent emotions like awe. Music’s crucial role in creating a sense of community and well-being has been recognized across various cultures and religions. As I reflect on my own experiences with music and the joy it has brought to my life, I am reminded of its profound impact on our minds, bodies, and relationships.


About Leif Larsen

Join Leif Larsen, our science blogger extraordinaire, on a journey of discovery through the fascinating worlds of climate change, earth science, energy, environment, and space exploration. With a wealth of knowledge and a passion for exploring the mysteries of the universe, Leif delivers insightful and thought-provoking posts that offer a unique perspective on the latest developments in the world of science. Read him to unlock the secrets of the natural world, from the deepest oceans to the furthest reaches of the cosmos!

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