Satisfying a Musical Craving

:: 11.13.17

 By Cassie Cloutier

The other day, my roommate said to me, “I’m not sure why, but I’m just really craving this song right now.” And that got me thinking: music is one of few things that is truly universal in this world. Music is able to transcend race, gender, sexual orientation, and just about everything else. But why do humans crave music and appealing sounds? This question sent me down a rabbit hole of needing to know the science behind why our brains crave music. So without further ado, here’s the results on what I was able to find:

Music has been around since basically the dawn of time and arranging sounds in a way that sounds appealing if far from a new concept, but why? Well, it turns out melodies and familiar rhythms can trigger just about any emotion and nostalgia is a massive part of that. Sound patterns that have been engrained in our brains since a young age make certain songs sound familiar and welcoming which can lead to a so-called “craving” for a specific tune. But what does this translate to in a scientific context? Well according to Time, "What the scientists found was that the songs that triggered the strongest response from both the emotional and intellectual parts of the brain were correlated with a willingness to pay more. And that suggests that people get not just a sensory reward from listening to music, but a direct intellectual one too — even if they’re not aware of it. The nature of that reward, Salimpoor believes, based on this and earlier research, has to do with pattern recognition and prediction. “As an unfamiliar piece unfolds in time,” she says, “our brains predict how it will continue to unfold” (science.time.com). Inherently, our brains love finding and figuring out patterns, so when a certain sound arrangement has a familiar and pleasing pattern to our brains, it causes this “craving” to listen to a certain song. And what type of songs that have easier patterns for our brains to detect actually has a lot to do with the music we were exposed to as children. For example, "someone raised on rock or Western classical music won’t be able to predict the course of an Indian raga, for example, and vice versa. But if a piece develops in a way that’s both slightly novel and still in line with our brain’s prediction, we tend to like it a lot. And that, says Salimpoor, “is because we’ve made a kind of intellectual conquest” (science.time.com). So overall, if your brain is craving a song, indulge it! Figuring out sound patterns triggers the reward system in our brains and is shown to make humans happy so turn on that tune, crank up the volume, and make your brain smile!