Saturday, September 09, 2006

humanist quantifiers on "why we enjoy music"

Farhad Manjoo in Salon (for those relishing cogscispeak):
Contrary to long-held assumptions, the cerebellum did turn out to play a role in some emotions -- particularly the way we derive pleasure from the rhythm, or groove, of a piece of music. When we listen to a song, our ears send signals not only to the auditory cortex, the region of the brain that processes the sound, but also straight to the cerebellum. When a song begins, Levitin says, the cerebellum, which keeps time in the brain, "synchronizes" itself to the beat. Part of the pleasure we find in music is the result of something like a guessing game that the brain then plays with itself as the beat continues. The cerebellum attempts to predict where beats will occur. Music sounds exciting when our brains guess the right beat, but a song becomes really interesting when it violates the expectation in some surprising way -- what Levitin calls "a sort of musical joke that we're all in on." Music, Levitin writes, "breathes, speeds up, and slows down just as the real world does, and our cerebellum finds pleasure in adjusting itself to stay synchronized."

But it's not just the cerebellum that perks up to songs. What's interesting about how our brains respond to music -- rather than, say, language -- is the large number of systems that are activated by the experience. In addition to the cerebellum, music taps into the frontal lobes (a "higher-order" region that processes musical structure), and it also activates the mesolimbic system, which Levitin explains is "involved in arousal, pleasure, the transmission of opiods and the production of dopamine." This is why certain music can feel so pleasurable, producing such deep emotions -- it's simultaneously operating on various parts of our brains, and the response is something on the order of taking a hit of heroin.

Yeah, or something...(via)

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