Why is music important,
and why do we like it so much?

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Amy Belfi-Music and The Brain-The neuroscience behind how and why music influences our emotions feelings and behaviors.png

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Now based on your research, let us go through some questions, so you can educate us. Why is music important and why do we like it so much?
 
Amy Belfi:
The whole, why is music important question, I think I’ve had to be trying to answer this for basically my entire career, which has been 10 years now. I guess since I started grad school especially from the scientific community. When I first started doing this work I got a lot of pushback like, why are you inciting this?, what’s the point of studying music?, which was always a really bizarre question to me because I’m like, well you listen to music don’t you?
 
It’s interesting to me because it’s a very ubiquitous behavior first of all just because something is ubiquitous doesn’t necessarily mean it’s worth studying though, but the interesting part to me is that not only is it ubiquitous, but it’s like something that most people really love. Like people hold it very dear aside from the people who have musical Anedonia, and it’s something that, yeah its an aspect of our behavior and our everyday lives, and it’s something that people really enjoy and I think we should understand more about  how it influences our behaviors, how it influences our thoughts, how it influences our emotions.  Because it is something that we do a lot of and spend a lot of time listening to, so that’s why I think it’s important to study. Why we like it so much is a harder question to answer. I don’t really have a good answer for that it’s something that I think a lot of us who study music cognition are interested in answering, but I don’t really have a good answer to that.
 
There are many answers, I think. I don’t think there’s a single answer either.  I think you know music can remind us of good times from our past, so that might be one reason. Sometimes I hear songs that were popular when I was in high school and I didn’t even like the song then, but now I like it now because it reminds me of those good memories. So that’s one reason I don’t even like the music particularly but I like the music because of the things with memories and association that brings it back. Exactly, so that’s like one reason that I like music, but that’s not the only reason there’s lots of other ways. We can think it evokes emotions in us, it makes me feel good it makes me, you know, it sounds interesting or beautiful.
 
So there’s these different kind of mechanisms by which music can evoke pleasure, or why we like it and so. I don’t think there’s a unifying answer really.
 
Jasmine Moradi:
Then I’m interested to know, how does her brain make the decision of her taste in music? And there I need to say that in my previous podcast with my professor Sven-Olov Daunfeldt, and he’s like I love to listen to hard rock music when I do research, and I’m like I don’t ever want to put it on.
 
Amy Belfi:
It’s so interesting how we can like different taste of music. This is something also that I’m interested in too, and I don’t again I don’t think I’m gonna have definitive answers for any of your questions because these are like very high level questions. I think it has something to do with exposure, I think there’s like probably some kind of critical periods, maybe not going that far as critical periods, but there’s like times in your life where like, if you’re exposed to this certain types of music during your like late childhood or whatever that you’re gonna kind of develop a preference for those types of music. People tend to form their musical tastes during that late childhood or adolescence early adulthood. Like those kinds of formative years when you’re developing your sense of self and those self-image types of things that music can be very associated with your sense of self and who you are and who you are friends with and your clicks and that kind of stuff. 
 
I think part of it is that like exposure during a certain time window of your life. There’s probably also personality associations I think can I say that, certain personality types are more likely I think to like certain types of music than others. I’m not a personality researcher so I don’t want to make strong claims about that, but I think there’s some work on that personality with musical taste. I think those two things are kind of important contributors to how you develop taste, but I think there’s all really a lot that we don’t understand about that yet.
 
Jasmine Moradi:
Why does a song have the ability to evoke the feeling of chills down or spine?
 
Amy Belfi:
So there’s something we haven’t really talked about yet, which is the idea of musical expectancy. There’s been a lot of work in this area and a lot of people have you know since the 50s the people in music theory are kind of talking about how expectancies influence our emotional responses to music, in hearing like western music we’ve all absorbed the kind of structure of the music that there are certain patterns that tend to happen in a musical key you tend to hear the same.
 
That there’s this pattern of the way music is structured in our music system and even if you’re not a musical expert you learn those kinds of statistical regularities of the musical system. Musical artists and composers can kind of play with these expectations by either setting they can set up a context in which we say expect to hear a c major chord or something, and then they can either give us what we expect or give us something different or something very different. It seems to be kind of like a balance between you know confirming and disconfirming these expectations that leads to this enjoyment of music or at least that’s one contributor.
 
Why in terms of why does the song have an ability to evoke chills? I think it’s probably a combination of the kind of musical structure like people have looked into. I think like a crescendo is often associated with the feeling of chills so I think there are parts of it that are related to like this expectation or this musical structure, but I also think there are other parts that are more idiosyncratic to the individual person. Because I don’t think people have really found certain pieces that are like this will always evoke a chill in any listener. I think it also sometimes has to do with like the memory, I mean for me, I’m always like yeah a lot of it has to do with memories, but what’s interesting to me is  why does the same song always evoke chills for me even if I know what’s happening? It’s not just like an expectation you know violation because I know what’s going to happen, but maybe it’s because I associate it with like this nostalgic time in my life, and then it gives me these like good feelings. So I think it’s a combination of personal factors and factors in the music itself.
 
Jasmine Moradi:
You have talked about proving the power of sound in a human being. What would you then say is the reason why brands have neglected?
 
Amy Belfi:
I don’t know the whole why do brands ignore it thing. I think it’s maybe just a symptom of our you know reliance on vision as our primary sense of navigating the world. Even in my own field too I think there’s a lot more research or the visual system.  I would say is probably better characterized or there’s more people working on vision than on other and then on other sensory systems, and I think that’s probably because it’s I don’t know I don’t want to say it’s like easy or anything, but I think it’s people see vision as being our dominant sense as humans and I think that’s part that’s probably partially explains why other senses have been ignored relative to vision as a sense.
 
Jasmine Moradi:
Can it also be that it’s easier for us to explain why we like something visually rather than the emotions. That we feel and a lot of people are maybe grown up in terms of like don’t feel so much, so we don’t really know how to express the feeling we feel when we listen to that song. There are no words enough to explain?
 
Amy Belfi:
Yeah, I think that’s where I was talking to some students the other day about how like some of the words we use like,  I talked about imagery  like visualize or even like the word visual. As you can imagine a picture in your head, and you can do that with sound, but we don’t have a word like visualize the sound. Like we would have to say visualize the sound but visual it doesn’t make sense when you’re talking about sound, but we don’t have a word that we don’t say like Auditorial eyes or something.
 
We don’t have a word to describe that auditory imagery in the same way we do just say imagery like means visual imagery, so I think that’s kind of like your point you don’t even have the words to describe it.
 
Jasmine Moradi:
And how do you measure it, how do you measure that high that people feel when they’re listening to it?