Who among us has never felt sad when listening to certain music? Or very happy when our favourite song comes on? We have all felt different emotions through music: sadness, joy, surprise, fear, energy, etc.
In all cultures throughout history, music has been used to link the physical senses with the spirit. We know that music helps us express our emotions, relieve stress and even influence our mood. But it can also evoke memories.
Melodies have the power to transport us into the past.
Listening to a song that our parents used to play when we were young will bring up the memory of those years. We can even feel like we did then, in a much more accessible and intense way than if we simply tried to remember or think about those times.
Music can transport us back to that time and make us relive the emotions we felt then.
What is happening in our brain in those moments?
When we listen to music, our neurons work to recover our stored memories associated with the melodies. Studies done in the U.S. have shown that music, like aroma, is powerful in evoking memories.
“Our daily life lacks a spontaneous soundtrack, but many of our memories are like mental films that begin to play in our head when we listen to a familiar piece of music, which acts like a soundtrack”, explains Petr Janata, a Sociology Professor at the Center for Mind and Brain at University of California, Davis.
In the journal Cerebral Cortex, the scientist explains how the neurons in a region of our brain associated with storing and recovering memories work to integrate familiar melodies, memory and emotion.
Janata did an experiment with 13 students, using an MRI to examine how their brains reacted while he played them 30 songs. When comparing the answers given later by the students with the results of the MRI, Janata noticed that more important memories evoked more activity in the dorsal medial prefrontal cortex.
The discoveries made in these studies could explain the success that musical therapy is currently having with certain diseases, mainly in people with Alzheimer’s who are treated with music therapy to stimulate memories, improve their attention span and mood, and to relax them. The dorsal medial prefrontal cortex is one of the last to atrophy with these diseases.
We can therefore demonstrate once again the benefits of music, impacting our mood and usually making us feel good. This is because it releases dopamine, known as the happy hormone.