Music has been around for what feels like forever. People listen to it at parties, when they’re experiencing strong emotions when they’re studying, or just taking a walk down the street. But why? Why is music, which is just sound, so addictive?
It has to do with the reward system. For example, when we do something like eat food or other things that make us happy, our brain rewards us with, well, happiness. Our brain is hardwired to reward us with pleasure or happiness for doing things that are necessary to our survival such as eating. Adding on to that, a theory is that we get “chills” when listening to music. Our brains release dopamine (the happy chemical) whenever we listen to it, which then makes us happy. I mean, it’s not known as the happy chemical for nothing. What’s more, is that whenever the music peaks and we get “chills”, we feel the happiest because our dopamine release is the strongest.
Okay, so we answered why we like music. But what we still don’t know is why we started liking it initially. Dopamine only gets released when we are doing things necessary to survival, such as eating. But music isn’t necessary for survival. So why do we get a dopamine rush?
One theory is that our love for patterns shows in our addiction to music. Music is essentially a pattern. We hear the chorus repeat, the melodies, the chord progressions, the rhythm, and we start to expect what happens next. We developed pattern recognition as an essential survival skill, so maybe listening to music and recognizing the patterns lights up our brain to give us a rush of happiness.
As an added bonus, I also found out why listening to sad and slow songs makes us feel sad, or listening to angry songs make us angry. Humans tend to mirror emotions. We’ve seen it everywhere. Whether it is watching a sad movie or seeing your friend cry, chances are you’ll be crying along with them. So when you’re listening to a sad song, you hear the emotion in the singer’s voice and start to become sad with them- the same goes for an angry song.
So there you have it. A very messy explanation of why we like music. The truth is, nobody is really sure why we like it. But, I’ll leave you with this. Next time you listen to music, pay attention to your emotions. Do you feel happy listening to a peppy pop song? Do you feel sad listening to a melancholic ballad? See what you feel, and learn what makes you happy and why, in terms of music.