There are lots of fascinating types of psychology but the psychology of music rocks!
According to Richard Parncutt, Professor of Systematic Musicology at the University of Graz, music psychology investigates why humans spend so much time, effort and money on musical activities. This investigation combines the academic study of music (musicology) with the academic study of human individuals (psychology). Areas of psychology frequently drawn upon within the psychology of music include biopsychology, perception, cognition, creativity, motivation and emotion.
Professor Parncutt notes that the topic areas explored by music psychologists include, music rituals and gatherings, skills and processes involved in learning a musical instrument, the role of music in forming personal and group identities, everyday music listening and responding emotionally to music. And it is research into the last two topics (everyday music listening and responding emotionally to music) which have highlighted some incredibly interesting things that we can all relate to.
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I'm sure like most people you will have experienced that amazing buzz when listening to a particular song or piece of music? A tune so good or emotionally arousing, that it gives you goosebumps and makes your hair stand on end. Well, it turns out that these musical frissons like other happiness inducing experiences (sex, drugs, and food) are as a result of a dopamine rush.
Dopamine is a chemical neurotransmitter that helps regulate the reward and pleasure centers in the brain. A reinforcement and motivation stimulus, dopamine plays a very important role in our biological survival. Strikingly, therefore, given that music listening is not essential for human survival; dopamine release in this context serves to demonstrate the remarkable human ability to derive pleasure from abstract concepts such as music and art.
What's your musical frisson number one? Which song or piece of music gives you goosebumps? Here are some of the replies I received when I asked this question on the All About Psychology facebook page.
Clare Island - The Saw Doctors.
Vivaldi - L' Olimpiade (Sinfonia Allegro) in facsimile.
You and your friend - Dire Straits.
Eulogy - Tool
Pavarotti - Nessun Dorma.
Simon And Garfunkel - The Sound of Silence.
Never let me go - Florence and The Machine.
The tune that does it for me is Bizarre Love Triangle by New Order. The 1980's was my decade and this anthem transports me straight back there every time, in fact I've got Frissons right now just thinking about it.
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"You're suffering from a condition known as "Earworm..." when your brain becomes stuck on a catchy tune."
(SpongeBob Square Pants: Season 8, episode 9, 2010)
Another very common musical experience is when a tune suddenly pops into your head and keeps on doing so over and over again. This phenomenon has been variously labeled - tune in the brain syndrome, sticky music, cognitive itch, involuntary musical imagery and my personal favorite "earworms."
To find out just how common earworms are, Dr. Lassi A. Liikkanen from Aalto University in Finland conducted the first comprehensive study on the subject. Over 12,000 people completed an online survey, with 91% of respondents reporting experiencing earworms at least once a week.
In a quest to learn more about the music in people’s heads, Dr Victoria Williamson and colleagues from Goldsmiths, University of London, conducted collaborative research with BBC 6Music and the British Academy. One illuminating area of enquiry has been to explore the circumstances preceding an earworm episode. Among the triggers which can apparently cause a tune to pop into your head and become an earworm are:
Among the other interesting patterns found among those reporting earworms were that women get earworms more than men and that the average length of an earworm is 27 minutes but for some people they can last for hours, days and even weeks!
Why Studying Earworms is Important
"By learning about earworms we can understand more about: 1) how our involuntary memory systems work in both positive (creativity) and negative (rumination and PTSD) ways; and 2) how we can learn to use memory more effectively, for example using music to help children learn more effortlessly or aid those who are suffering from memory problems."
(Dr Victoria Williamson)
I can't think of a better way of demonstrating the power of music than by drawing your attention to - Alive Inside: A Story of Music and Memory by Michael Rossato-Bennett. This profoundly moving documentary chronicles social worker Dan Cohen's discovery that personalized music can awaken memories in people with Alzheimer’s and dementia.
During the making of the documentary a clip of Henry a 94 year old man with dementia was posted on YouTube. The clip went viral and within a week 7 million people had seen it.
GO HERE to learn more about the Alive Inside documentary and The Alive Inside Foundation, 'a non-profit dedicated to inspiring an empathy revolution through education, intergenerational practices, music, and film.'
The use of therapeutic music in a formalized setting would be a great topic for a research project or final year thesis/dissertation. Not least because Nina S. Parikh, PhD, from the Brookdale Center for Healthy Aging of Hunter College, CUNY has put together an extensive reference list of the latest research on the subject, which you can access HERE.
CLICK HERE to explore Dr Victoria Williamson's Music Psychology Blog, an outstanding resource for anybody interested in learning more about music psychology.
Do babies remember music from the womb? Can classical music increase your child’s IQ? Is music good for productivity? Can it aid recovery from illness and injury? And what is going on in your brain when Ultravox’s 'Vienna', Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht or Dizzee Rascal’s 'Bonkers' transports you back to teenage years?
In a brilliant new work that will delight music lovers of every persuasion, music psychologist Victoria Williamson examines our relationship with music across the whole of a lifetime. Along the way she reveals the amazing ways in which music can physically reshape our brains, explores how ‘smart music listening’ can improve cognitive performance, and considers the perennial puzzle of what causes 'earworms'.
Requiring no specialist musical or scientific knowledge, this upbeat, eye-opening book reveals as never before the extent of the universal language of music that lives deep inside us all.
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