Who hasn’t felt sad when listening to certain music? Or very happy with a song! We have all felt at some point different emotions through music: sadness, joy, surprise, fear, energy?
Throughout history and in all cultures, music has been used as a link between the physical senses and the spirit. It is well known that music helps us to express our emotions, release tension and above all it influences our mood. But it also has the ability to evoke our memories.
And the fact is that melodies have the power to transport us to the past.
Listening to a song that our parents used to play at home when we were little, will bring back memories of those years, we can even feel again how we did then, in a much more accessible and intense way than if we were simply trying to remember, or thinking about that time.
Music can transport us to that moment and make us relive the emotions we felt then.
What is happening in those moments in our brain?
When listening to music, neurons work by performing a kind of retrieval of stored memories in relation to the melodies. Studies by an American researcher have shown that music, like smells, is a powerful evoker of memories.
“Our day-to-day lives lack a spontaneous soundtrack, but many of our memories are mental movies that begin to play in our heads when we hear a familiar piece of music, which acts as its soundtrack,” explains Petr Janata, professor of psychology at the Center for Mind and Brain at the University of California, Davis.
In the journal Cerebral Cortex, the specialist explains how in a region of our brain, related to the storage and retrieval of memories, neurons work as a connection center between familiar melodies, memory and emotion.
Janata did an experiment with 13 students to whom he played 30 songs and while they listened to them he examined how their brains acted through an MRI. By comparing the young people’s subsequent responses with the results of their MRI, Janata found that the more important the evoked memory was, the more activity the upper (dorsal) part of the medial prefrontal cortex registered.
The findings of these studies could explain the effectiveness of musical therapies today with certain patients, mainly with people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, who are treated with music therapy with the aim of stimulating memory, improving attention, mood and having a relaxing effect. The dorsal area of the medial prefrontal cortex is one of the areas that atrophy later in these patients.
We thus demonstrate, once again, the benefits of music, which has an impact on our mood and usually makes us feel good, as it releases dopamine, known as the hormone of happiness.