Why Is Music So Pleasurable?

Music listening may be a delightful hobby. Music conveys feelings, moods, or a mental condition that appears to improve our quality of life. How does music affect listeners’ emotions and enjoyment?

Musical enjoyment

Listening to music makes the reward system active. Dopamine release in the mesolimbic reward system may be triggered by listening to enjoyable music (Salimpoor et al., 2015). Engaging with music may elicit the same physiological and psychological reactions as other fundamental incentives, like food, sex, or financial benefits.

It’s usual to refer to musical enjoyment as “chills” or “frissons.” Many individuals get goosebumps or other delightful physical responses when they listen to specific musical parts. How much one is ready to spend on a particular musical work depends on how much pleasure it provides.

Not everyone, meanwhile, gets the chills when they listen to music. A tiny percentage of people (between 3 and 4 percent) experience musical anhedonia. Even if they don’t like or appreciate music, some people nonetheless find satisfaction in other activities that trigger reward mechanisms. According to research, the lack of connections between auditory networks and the reward system causes musical anhedonia (Belfi & Loui, 2020).

Musical surprise

Expectations and surprises may make music more enjoyable. Music’s melodic, rhythmic, and abrupt shift patterns are a big part of what makes it enjoyable. One of the main ways that music elicits a powerful emotional reaction in listeners is via an abrupt shift in intensity and pace (Huron, 2006). Composers may manipulate these expectations; they can be met, broken, or put on hold.

After a certain amount of exposure, the gap between anticipated and actual occurrences is so tiny that listeners start looking forward to them. And the quality of the music declines. This explains why our preferences change throughout time. Nothing compares to the excitement of the first time. Humans adapt to new situations.

Newness vs. familiarity

Two opposing variables, familiarity and novelty, influence our choices. Our inclinations may sometimes tend toward the novel (new music, products, or shops). On the other side, there are instances when we favor items that bring back fond memories. For example, a song could cause a listener to recall the day she got her first job. This recollection may then powerfully conjure up the listener’s sentiments of enthusiasm and hope from that particular day.

The iconic Wundt inverted-U shape shows how we respond to novelty and familiarity in music. When we initially hear something, we may not enjoy it very much. However, after hearing it again, we could start to like it more. The pleasurable music creates a balance between predictable happenings and events that are just slightly surprising yet nevertheless manage to startle the listener. For example, Gold et al. (2019) found that listeners favored songs with a medium level of complexity, including elements like predictability and familiarity.

The reason we like music so much is ultimately due to musical surprise. Emotional arousal and pleasure in music are mainly caused by tension produced by anticipation and its rejection or fulfillment. After repeated exposure, good music sounds predictable and becomes less enjoyable. Learning about musical performance and structure may thus be satisfying in and of itself.

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