Here’s how music makes us feel emotions, trigger reactions and controls brain, according to AI

USC researchers looked at the heart rate, galvanic skin response, brain activity and subjective feelingsof happiness and sadness in a group of volunteers as they listened to three pieces of unfamiliar music. (FROM TOP RIGHT, CLOCKWISE): TIM GREER, SHRIKANTH NARAYANAN, BEN MA. PHOTO/HAOTIAN MAI.

  • From sudden cheer to intense emotions, music triggers reactions that affect the human brain, causing behavioural changes and increased heart rate.
  • Indians spend almost 2.7 hours listening to music everyday. That means 54 three-minute long songs.
  • The transition in the beats, rhythm and introduction of a new instrument stimulates responses.
  • To put it straight, it feels lively when listening to Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance!
Ever wondered how a three minute long song takes you on a rollercoaster of emotions? That is because the brain sings to the rhythm while the heart beats faster. This is how music influences the way humans feel.

A recent Digital Music Study by the Indian music industry says that people in the age bracket of 16 -64 years spend almost 2.7 hours listening to music everyday. That means 54 three-minute long songs, daily.

After decades of anticipation, researchers at the University of South California investigated how music affects listeners’ brains, bodies and emotions. The study tracked brain activity, heart rate and sweat measures to understand responses using AI algorithms.

“AI, computational algorithms help not just illuminate human affective experiences to music at the brain and body level, but in connecting them to how actually individuals feel and articulate their experiences,” Professor Shrikanth Narayanan, Nikias Chair in Engineering, Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, University of Southern California told Business Insider India in an emailed response.

From sudden cheer to intense emotions, music triggers reactions that affect the human brain, causing behavioural changes and increased heart rate.

While some responses are influenced by the exposure to the form of music, the transition in the beats, rhythm and introduction of a new instrument stimulates responses and an uptick in the brain’s activities.

“If a song is loud throughout and there’s not a lot of dynamic variability, the experience will not be as powerful as if the composer uses a change in loudness,” said Tim Greer, lead author and PhD student at the university.

The brain reacts to the pulse and the strength of the beat. There is a sensory response to an unexpected aspect and complexity in the song. To put it straight, it feels lively when listening to Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance!

“It is the modulation that has an effect which can appreciate as you imagine a single piano playing which starts to be joined by the string instruments in an orchestra,” Greer added.

In fact, the measure of sweat increases with a transition in the song. “When each new instrument enters, you can see a spike in the collective response of the skin,” he said.

Anxiety and depression? Music to the rescue!

Several studies have shown that music calms anxiety and help people with disabilities or dementia.

“Music is subjective. Not everyone in the same family who is exposed to music ends up having the same preferences. The whole family can listen to classical Indian music and one person can end up loving rock!” Narayanan added.

However, songs in a minor key are sad as the pitch creates a sad sound. While songs in a major key are happy.

“If you are in an elevated state of distress, and you especially respond to a particular music that offers a calming effect, it can be viewed as a device that helps you regulate; this is, not that dissimilar from other interventions like breathing exercises that help people with regulating their emotions and mood,” Narayanan said.

The research analysed human responses using MRI -- feelings of happiness and sadness — on three emotional pieces of music that did not contain lyrics and were unfamiliar, so no element of memory was attached to the listeners’ emotional response.

See also:
Kabir Singh is Spotify’s most streamed album — with 4 songs in the top 10
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