Springfest: the science behind why humans enjoy music

Charlotte Mineo, Sci/Tech Editor

Springfest is right around the corner and campus is abuzz with questions of who the bands will be, whether the music will be good and how likely it is to rain. The event poses an unresolved scientific question as well: why do humans like music?

“National Geographic” reports that listening to music causes an influx of dopamine, a neurotransmitter involved in responses to pleasure, in the human brain.

What’s interesting is that dopamine signalling is an ancient and highly conserved process in mammals, but animal brains don’t respond to human music.

A 2015 study by Megan Savage and Charles Snowdon was published in the Journal of Applied Animal Behavior Science and revealed that cats will respond to “cat music.” The authors used the hypothesis that music needs to mimic the sounds and tempos that a species naturally uses to communicate. Cats responded much more strongly to songs that met these parameters and hardly registered other music that was more “human sounding.”

Once a brain recognizes a song as pleasurable, the sounds may do more than simply entertain the listener. Melissa Leggieri and others from the University of Toronto have found that listening to music can help delay symptom progression in adults with early Alzheimer’s. Using a brain-scanning technique called fMRI, researchers were able to identify which regions of adult brains were engaged when the participant listened to music.

They revealed that familiar music activates more regions associated with emotional processing than new songs. Music was demonstrated as a viable tool to enhance neurological connectivity and function in adults with early Alzheimer’s.

Humans probably enjoy music for a variety of reasons, but research has revealed that responses to music are dependent on chemical, neurological and social factors.

The campus will enjoy the opportunity to engage their brains through music this Springfest, and hopefully no one damages their brain cells too much as the weekend pans out.