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Why does music influence our emotions so much

In an article from the series “Ask, Answer,” designed to quench reader’s curiosity, BBC Future journalist explores the impact of music on people’s emotional state.

“Why does music have a direct effect on our emotions? What is the evolutionary meaning of this phenomenon?”, Asks Philip Lörish, who sent us his question by e-mail.

Each person experienced the emotional power of music, which sometimes literally takes us for the soul.

We can get into a state of euphoria from driving music in some rock club, and while listening to a romantic ballad, we can experience the deep longing of unrequited love …

Music expresses our emotions much more powerful than they can express words.

However, as our reader rightly observes, the reasons for this do not lie on the surface.

“I understand why the rhythm can be so attractive, and I also understand the matter of anticipation, surprise, and fulfillment of the expected. All these things explain why music can be of interest. But why it acts on us and at a deeper level – it remains a mystery to me, “he wrote.

The mystery of anthropology
Our reader, Philip, is not the only one to ask this question. And he, by the way, is in a good company.

Is music just an annoyance to the ears, or does it have a deeper meaning?
Even the father of evolutionary theory, Charles Darwin, was puzzled by the human ability to perceive music and called this ability “the most mysterious of those with which [humanity] has been gifted”.

Some thinkers, such as the cognitive scientist Stephen Pinker, even questioned whether there was any special value in music at all.

In Pinker’s opinion, we like music only because it stimulates our other, more important abilities – the ability to recognize patterns, for example.

Image copyright THINKSTOCK
Image caption
Descending melodic harmonic sequences usually have a calming effect on us.
By itself, she, according to Pinker, does not represent value and acts only as an irritant for hearing.

If this were the case, would people all over the world spend so much of their life time playing music and listening to music?

If you consider yourself a music freak, compare your obsession with attitudes towards music in the Babing tribe. This Central African nation is known for the song and dance that accompanies any occupation – from collecting honey to elephant hunting.

Anthropologist Gilbert Rouget, who lived among the representatives of the Babing in 1946, found that their non-participation in the ritual of joint music-making was considered the worst of all crimes.

“Perhaps, you cannot express more clearly that a song and food are equally necessary for a person to live,” the scientist remarked. “For this reason, many people (including myself) can hardly believe that music is just a background soundtrack to the history of human evolution. ”

Fortunately, there are alternative theories regarding the purpose of music. According to one particularly popular hypothesis, music arose in response to sexual competition among people – like a bright tail from peacocks.

Indeed, developed musical abilities make a person sexually more attractive.

However, this theory has little evidence yet: a recent study of 10 thousand twins did not show that the musicians were somehow particularly lucky in the “bed” business (Mick Jagger and many other rockers, however, can argue with that).

Going through our heart strings, music helped us establish emotional contact with the world
It is also suggested that music was an early form of human communication. Indeed, some musical motifs carry the emotional codes of our ancestors.

For example, an ascending staccato turns us on emotionally, and prolonged descending sequences have a calming effect. Apparently, certain sound constructions contain universal meanings, equally readable by adults of different ages and cultures, young children and even animals.

So it is possible to assert with great certainty that music arose on the foundation from associations with the cries of birds and animals as a means by which an ancient person who did not yet have a language could express his feelings and emotions. It is even possible that music became the proto-language that set the stage for speech.

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In addition, at a certain historical stage, music may have helped bring people together into communities. Group dance and chorus singing made people more altruistic and more inclined to identify with the collective in which they exist.

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