Academic journal article Psychomusicology

Music, Feelings, and the Human Brain

Academic journal article Psychomusicology

Music, Feelings, and the Human Brain

Article excerpt

Researchers interested in the brain's processing of music agree that music evokes a wide range of feelings (Sloboda, O'Neill, & Ivaldi, 2001) and have, understandably, devoted considerable effort to the investigation of music-related affect (for a comprehensive review see Music and Emotion, Theory, Research, Applications edited by Patrick Juslin & John Sloboda, 2010). In most treatments of music-related affect, however, feelings (along with emotions, the phenomena that are commonly and unfortunately taken as their equivalent) are only considered from psychological or sociocultural perspectives, without consideration of the fact that feelings are also neurobiological phenomena and play a central role in life regulation, that is, in homeostasis. There is no doubt that music needs to be investigated from psychological and sociocultural perspectives. Still to address the underpinnings of music experience comprehensively and because feelings are so central to that experience, we believe that the research effort also requires the inclusion of a neurobiological perspective. To that end, in the pages ahead, we introduce a general neurobiological framework; we explain why feelings and emotions should be regarded as distinct phenomena; we relate music to the neurobiological perspective; and we review relevant findings concerning the neural counterparts of music-evoked affects.

Neurobiological Framework

The mammalian central nervous system (CNS) continuously monitors the body's interior and exterior environments. Changes in the interior environment (such as the mechanical or chemical conditions that lead to pain or the chemical imbalances behind thirst and hunger) are sensed by the interoceptive system (Craig, 2002), and signaled to sensory regions of the CNS dedicated to the governance of body functions. The signals are then displayed as neural maps of the body, within specific sensory regions whose integrity is required for the mental experience of feelings of the body state to occur (Damasio, 2001). Changes in the external environment are sensed by the exteroceptive systems (hearing, taste, smell, touch, and sight) and are displayed in separate sensory regions as neural maps of the external world. Their integrity is also required for the mental experience of signals from the external world (Kandel, Schwartz, Jessell, Siegelbaum, & Hudspeth, 2012; Kobatake & Tanaka, 1994; Udin & Fawcett, 1988). These two distinct systems, inwardly and outwardly oriented, operate interactively. Certain perceptual configurations, as displayed in neural maps of either the interior or the exterior, can trigger innate physiological action programs, which include drives and emotions (see Glossary). The trigger points are in a variety of regions largely located below the cerebral cortex. Drives are aimed at satisfying basic instinctual physiological needs and correcting the detected imbalances relative to basic body states. They include hunger, thirst, libido, the avoidance of pain, exploration and play, care of offspring, and attachment to mates (Berridge, 2004; Panksepp, 1998). Emotions, on the other hand, are largely triggered by the perception or recall of exteroceptive stimuli and include not only basic responses such as disgust, fear, anger, sadness, joy, but also socially complex responses such as shame, jealousy, compassion, admiration, and awe. The engagement of the latter emotions has a major effect on social regulation (Ekman & Friesen, 1971; Immordino-Yang, McColl, Damasio, & Damasio, 2009; LeDoux, 1996). Clearly all these action programs are ultimately aimed at maintaining or restoring homeostatic balance, not only at individual level-the principal task of drives and basic emotions- but, importantly, also at social levels, where social emotions play a major role by reducing the impact of negative conditions (e.g., compassion) or enhancing positive effects (e.g., admiration) (Damasio, 2001, 2011; Sanabria, 2006; Wright, 2010). …

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