Music is Magic, Part Two

In last week’s post I shared a video that poignantly illustrated the dynamic power which music possesses. But, by design, chose not to speak to the many processes that occur in our brains to make it possible for such dramatic results to be achieved. So, today, let’s pop the hood and take a look, shall we?

In this graphic, the four parts of our brain that have been highlighted, control our most primal responses to external stimuli, (touch, taste, smell, sight, and hearing) meaning, that none of them require intellect, conscious analysis or language in order to be experienced on a physical level.

parts of the brain that respond to music

Starting left to right in this diagram we see the Superior Temporal Cortex and the Inferior Frontal Cortex, whose primary functions are high-level auditory processing, and creating models, or patterns of music, that we revisit time and again.  This repetition, and the patterns that are created because of it, feed the two parts of the brain that we are going to look at next.

Let’s start with the Amygdala. This is the part of our brain that is responsible for processing and interpreting external stimuli received through our five senses, and forming emotions, as well as emotional behavior because of it. The Amygdala also informs our survival (gut) instincts, and is the place where we store memories. For example…

“I love how this fabric feels against my skin. It gives me goosebumps.”

“The smell of that pumpkin pie brings back childhood memories.”

“Every time this song comes on the radio, I tear up.” 

“This mountain view is breath-taking. It transports me to another time and place, very long ago.”

We’ve all had similar experiences. But the cool thing that’s happening, as the Amygdala interprets these things, is that it is assigning a value to each experience, comparing them to past experiences, and storing them for future reference. That’s what allowed Henry, in our video from last week, to swim through his dementia, come to the surface, and connect with part of his past.

Now let’s look at  the Nucleus Accumbens. Think of this as your pleasure center. The NA is rewards oriented. So the moment one of our five senses experiences something pleasant (rockin’ hot sex, scintillating food, intoxicating aromas, mesmerizing music, breath-taking scenery) the NA is activated, stores the experience as a memory, and goes on a mission to acquire more of whatever it was that produced the pleasurable experience. No analysis necessary. It’s primal.

This is potent stuff, guys. Studies have shown that music has such a powerful impact on the brain that it can lower elevated cortisol levels and stimulate production of the ‘feel good’ chemical called serotonin. musical sayingI call it changing the channel. When I’m stressed, one of the most effective ways I’ve found to get rid of that negative energy is to slap my favorite CD into my Bose, and sing along with it at the top of my lungs. My circumstances haven’t changed, but my mind has been altered, and along with it, my ability to cope with whatever it was that was stressing me out. Often times, by using music to change the channel, I end up with a solution that was unavailable to me in my previous state-of-mind. It’s almost as if the music helped to reorganize my thoughts to show me something that was obscured from my vision just moments before.

Music is Magic, folks. There’s no doubt about it. Did you know that in the last trimester of pregnancy, babies who are exposed to music, have the same internal responses in their brains as we do. The difference is their motor skills aren’t developed enough yet to be able to organize their body to express how they feel.  It doesn’t take long though, after they’re born for them to get organized, for them to be able to respond to what they hear. Check out it! These little guys know that music is magic and nobody had to tell them. They just know. Cheers!

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