How music affects the brain

How music affects the brain

Sit down to listen to songs that remind us of unforgettable moments, feel the euphoria that radiate groups of people chanting a chorus when listening to their favorite musicians at a concert or see the emotion of some parents when observing the response of their baby when they sing a lullaby. Music causes incomparable emotional and cognitive effects and this has a brain base that interests researchers in disciplines such as neuroscience and psychology around the world. Today we explain the main conclusions that research has managed to provide on how music affects the brain.


  • 1 Music and emotions
  • 2 Music and memory
  • 3 Music and neuroplasticity
  • 4 Do you feel chills when you listen to music?

Music and emotions

Music moves a lot of emotions and it is involved in cognitive processes that make it a tool with an even therapeutic effect. Musical stimuli increase the volume of certain neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, a neurotransmitter that is released producing brain rewards to stimuli that cause pleasure. It also regulates the levels of serotonin, oxytocin or epinephrine, achieving states of pleasure very similar to those that get certain drugs.

Thus, music stimulates emotions through specific brain circuits that make this a unique experience.

Stefan Koelsch He is a research psychologist and musician who is dedicated to the study of the neuronal mechanisms involved in music. According to Koelsch, there are three structures mostly involved in the processing of emotions that music causes:

  • Amygdala: The amygdala is a structure located in the temporal lobe and part of the limbic system. This set of nuclei has a primary function in the processing and storage of emotional reactions. According to the investigations, the music manages to activate the tonsil in the same way as visualizing faces, smelling or hearing other sounds, stimuli that are perceived by a social meaning. According to Koelsch, the amygdala is part of a large network that regulates behaviors that respond to socio-emotional stimuli such as music, in addition to evaluating positive and negative stimuli that will be reinforced or not.
  • Accumbens core: This set of neurons that is part of the mesolimbic pathway, is associated with the responses we generate when a stimulus produces pleasure and motivation. Musical stimuli are able to activate this structure as do other primary stimuli such as food or sex, or other secondary stimuli such as money or power. That is, it is a structure that has a lot to do with the hedonistic behavior that pushes us to look for these stimuli again due to the brain reward obtained. A great activation of this nucleus when listening to music can predict whether we will listen to a song again and even buy the track.
  • The hippocampus: This important structure located in the temporal lobe, has a main function when processing and storing memories. It seems that the hippocampus is activated when we hear recurring musical phrases. Taking into account that Emotions are very important for better memory storage and learning It is not surprising that emotional music triggers the reaction of this structure by virtue of emotional associations and the meaning it will generate.

Music and memory

There are many studies that support the connection between music and memory. It is surprising to see how patients affected by memory losses due to Alzheimer's disease retain their musical memories even in the most advanced stages of the disease.

Many studies have been carried out to investigate the relationship between music and memory activation. One of these is the one carried out by Petr Janata, professor of the University of California in Davis. This proved how the musical memories that cause the most excitement activate the dorsal area of ​​the medial prefrontal cortex, an area related to memory recovery. It seems that these areas of the brain are one of the last to be affected by Alzheimer's disease and this could explain why patients can continue to remember melodies that cause them emotion.

Music and neuroplasticity

Neuroplasticity is the ability of the brain to create new brain connections that repair certain damage or compensate for injuries that have been suffered. Neuroplasticity allows the brain to acquire new responses to deal with new situations in the environment in different ways.

It seems that music manages to help the formation of new brain pathways when patients suffer from brain injuries. This is shown by a study from the University of Newcastle in Australia, in which it was studied how patients affected by brain injuries managed to reconnect memories and reorganize information through music, as if it were acting as a guide in memory.

Do you feel chills when you listen to music?

Except for people who suffer from specific musical anhedonia, a neurological insensitivity to music, we can all feel pleasure in listening to music. However, some people manage to go further and are prone to feel a kind of chills or goosebumps, when they hear a song they love. It is about experiencing emotions so intensely when listening to music that people can feel extreme pleasure.

According to research such as that carried out by the researcher Dr Matthew Sachs from Harvard University, people experiencing musical chills have different neurological characteristics than the rest. Specifically, it seems that the auditory cortex is more connected to emotional processing areas due to a higher density of the fiber volumes that link these areas. This greater connection makes the two regions interact better causing these highly sensitive responses.

The effects caused by music are not overlooked for scientists and psychologists. The ability it has to provoke emotions, capture attention and access the most hidden memories are used even in a therapeutic way. A clear example is the use of music therapy as a method to identify emotions in autistic people, to work memory with people suffering from Alzheimer's disease or to improve the mood of people suffering from depression. Music is more than a set of ordered sounds that manage to communicate with each other. It can also help us at different levels and brain studies increasingly show more.

Links of interest

Goosebumps while listening to music linked with different brain structure. Samuel Mayer 2019. //

Music, emotion and the brain. 2014. //

Music and the Brain: The Fascinating Ways That Music Affects Your Mood and Mind. Barry Goldstein //