Study Links Music With Listeners' Emotions

Stratton speculates that perhaps students who are hoping for a career in music may be a little more in tune to the emotional impact of music, and may even choose certain types of music to stimulate that effect. Maybe it's that old bromide at work, to be a great artist you've got to suffer along the way. So turn on a little Mahler and weep. But oddly enough, the study found that the type of music was less important than rather the listeners really liked whatever they were listening to. Rock, the music of choice, made just about all the students "optimistic, joyful, friendly, relaxed and calm," according to the findings, published in a recent issue of Psychology and Education/ An Interdisciplinary Journal.

Melodies and Memories

It probably wouldn't do that for everybody, and that gives rise to an old question. Why does music have such a profound impact on our emotions?

Stratton says there are probably some physiological reasons. Different types of music may induce different "brain rhythms," she says. Fast music may cause the heart to speed up, for example.

But there are also cultural reasons why some music works for us, provoking very specific emotions.

Our "past associations" with certain pieces may have a major impact on how we react to a particular song.

Hearing a very happy tune may have a sad affect on someone who associates that song with an unfortunate experience.

"If you heard that song during a very sad event in your life, that's going to bring back that kind of memory," Stratton says. "It's a very personal thing."

My layman's opinion is that music works for us because it expresses the harmonics of the soul.

I haven't the foggiest idea what that means, but it sounds neat.

Lee Dye’s column appears weekly on A former science writer for the Los Angeles Times, he now lives in Juneau, Alaska.

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