20 Oct How music is everyone’s first love

Most of us enjoy the sound of a good beat. We like to hear soothing notes and get happy when listening to an upbeat pop song. You probably listen to music as well, have a favourite kind of music and maybe even a favourite artist. I personally love music and I use it as my main outlet for emotions. How come our brains react so strongly to music and why do we like it so much? Let’s see how science tries to answer that question!

Darwin is everywhere

The most popular theory on why music is so important to us, is based on evolution. Darwin had a hunch that seems to be true: our love for music plays a role in sexual selection. Great singers might have been more attractive and so music probably is, just like we see in songbirds today, a sexual selector. Now, interestingly, researchers have proposed a new hypothesis based on the previous one: women prefer more complex music during their fertile period. Because of this, they may be able to find a better partner to mate with.

A few answers

This is your brain on music: the science of a human obsession by Daniel J. Levitin is a very nice book about the brain and its relationship with music. It covers various interesting aspects on how the brain reacts to music, how it processes music and why. Here are some examples from the book:

  • Why do we tap our foot to the beat?
    • In a nutshell: our cerebellum has the ability to remember ‘settings’ of the rhythm of a song and just loves to reproduce it, and so we start tapping our foot!
  • Why music is connected to emotions
    • Music appears to be a form of language, but in a less specific way. This form of language translates much better in our inner-brain: the brain area of reward, motivation and emotion. Here, it makes us feel things language can’t.
  • Why you like the music you like
    • This question has yet to be answered fully, but a professor of Keele University in the UK has found that children prefer music they have been exposed to in the womb of the mother. This could mean that your music preference stems from your childhood and was formed back then. So if you want your child to like AC/DC, put a speaker next to the belly and rock on!

Music cognition research at the UvA

Interest in the relationship between music and our brain is everywhere, including here at the UvA! The UvA Music Cognition Group does lots of interesting research on how music is processed in the brain. Right now, they are doing some great research on various subjects. For example:

  • Similarities and differences between how our brains process music vs. how language is processed (think about the emotional response of the brain!)
  • How you can still remember a melody after a really long time, and what kind of brain activation that requires

They even have a blog: check it out here

And so we see how music has found a way into our hearts and minds, and will not only be our first, but perhaps also our last love. Do you have a great story about how you came to love music or care to tell us why you don’t? Let me know in the comments.


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WTF daphne

WTF daphne

Future Neurobiologist Not afraid to take on a challenge Addicted to science Singer-songwriter Animal lover Gamer Oceans, beaches and diving
WTF daphne

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