Statistics show that 50% of people listen to music, while the other 50% experience music. You can have two people sitting in a room listening to the same song. One of them might say “hey this is cool,” while the other can look down at his or her arm and notice thousands of chills and raised hairs testifying to how cool that song was. Scientists have looked into this phenomenon and have discovered the reasons why people’s bodies are physically reacting to music.
Research has pointed to specific areas of our brains that react when hearing music. Certain chords can trigger the flow of dopamine to the striatum- a part of the brain that deals with addiction, motivation, and reward. This means that reaction people have to food, sex, drugs, and gambling is the same reaction people are having when listening to some good music. When it comes to the number of chills people experience while listening to a song, expectations are everything! The more we anticipate a “drop” or a particular moment of a song, such as a chorus, the more dopamine builds up and releases. This build-up and release process offers that chilling and satisfactory feeling. For survival purposes, our brains have learned to memorize patterns so that people will be able to predict what’s coming. Our brains have remembered patterns of previous songs we have heard, helping us expect what’s coming next. So when we expect a song to drop, and it does, our brain gets super happy with dopamine. This may also be the reason why some people only started loving a song when they hear it for the third time. Once our minds have the pattern of a song down pat, it’s able to anticipate the peak moments, and once they come, the feeling is awesome.
An interesting finding about this phenomenon shows that people experience more chills when they hear sad music in comparison to other genres. This means people are feeling more pleasure when they hear a break-up song than when they hear a song about a perfect day. The reason for this seems to be that experiencing sadness through alternative forms of expression, such as art, is more pleasurable than experiencing it throughout our daily routines.
Other explanations for the ironic idea that people enjoy sad music is that the amygdala, a part of the brain that’s involved with emotion, creates a fear response when a sad song is playing. Once more evolved parts of the brain realize there is no need for fear, a pleasurable feeling of relief is felt, and the goosebumps are on!
What about the other 50% of people whose bodies don’t react with pleasure when a song is playing? Psychologists explain that this half of the population are less open to new experiences. Someone with this characteristic might not be interested in the emotional roller coasters songs take us on. People who are enjoying music on a physical level are less likely to be thrill seekers- probably because things as simple as a song are thrilling enough. They are also more likely to be driven by rewards which can lead to addictive and impulsive behaviors.