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Simon Heather
Category: Sound Healing

Scientific Research & How Music Affects Us - Episode 7 of Simon's New Book: "The Healing Power of Music"

Scientific Research into the Effects of Music

Geetanjali Vaidya says one great problem that arises in trying to study music's emotional power is that the emotional content of music is very subjective. A piece of music may be emotionally powerful but is experienced in very different ways by each person who hears it.

The emotion created by a piece of music may be affected by: –

1. The memories associated with the piece

2. The environment it is being played in

3. The mood of the person listening and their personality

4.  The culture they were brought up in

5.  Any number of factors both impossible to control and impossible to quantify.

Under such circumstances, it is extremely difficult to deduce what intrinsic quality of the music, if any created a specific emotional response in the listener. Even when such seemingly intrinsic qualities are found, they are often found to be at least partially culturally dependent.

(Geetanjali Vaidya (2002) - Music, Emotion and the Brain)

Musical Tempo

According to studies published in the ‘The Economist’ and ‘The Scientific American’ major keys and rapid tempos cause happiness, whereas minor keys and slow tempos cause sadness, and rapid tempos together with dissonance cause fear.

("Exploring the Musical Brain” - Kristin Leutwyler, January 22, 2001 Scientific American)

("The Biology of Music", February 12th - 18th 2000, The Economist)


Most people find dissonant music unpleasant. Dissonance is to a certain degree culture-dependent, but also appears to be partly intrinsic to the music. Studies have shown that infants as young as 4 months old show negative reactions to dissonance.

(Cromie, William J. (2001) - "Music on the brain: Researchers explore biology of music" - Harvard Gazette Archives)

(Tramo, Mark Jude "Biology and music: Enhanced: Music of the Hemispheres" (2001) - Science Vol. 291, Sigue 5501, 54-56)

A recent experiment measured responses to dissonance. Dissonance can consistently create feelings of unpleasantness in a subject, even if the subject has never heard the music before. Music of varying dissonance was played for the subjects, while their cerebral blood flow was measured. Increased blood flow in a specific area of the brain corresponded with increased activity. It was found that the varying degrees of dissonance caused increased activity in the paralimbic regions of the brain, which are associated with processing emotions.

(Blood, A.J., Zatorre, R.J., Bermudez, P., and Evans, A.C. (1999) - "Emotional responses to pleasant and unpleasant music correlate with activity in paralimbic brain regions" - Nature Neuroscience, 2, 382-387)


Another recent experiment measured the activity in the brain while subjects were played previously chosen musical pieces that created feelings of intense pleasure for them. The musical pieces had an intrinsic emotional value for the subjects, and no memories or other associations were attached to them. Activity was seen in the reward, motivation, emotion, and arousal areas of the brain. This result was interesting because these areas are associated with the pleasure induced by food, sex, and recreational drugs, which would imply a connection between such pleasure and the pleasure induced by music.

(Blood, A.J. &  Zatorre, R.J. (2001) "Intensely pleasurable responses to music correlate with activity in brain regions implicated with reward and emotion - Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 98, 11818-11823

You can now either purchase the book directly from Simon on this link, or continue reading the SEVENTH Episode of the book using this link.

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