Music is amazing. What causes it to elicit such emotions?
… Philosophers and biologists have asked the question for centuries, noting that humans are universally drawn to music. It consoles us when we are sad, pumps us up in happier times and bonds us to others, even though listening to an iPod or singing “Happy Birthday” does not seem necessary for survival or reproduction.
Some scientists conclude that music’s influence may be a chance event, arising from its ability to hijack brain systems built for other purposes such as language, emotion and movement. As Harvard University psychologist Steven Pinker famously put it in his 1997 book How the Mind Works (W. W. Norton), music is “auditory cheesecake,” a confection crafted to tickle the areas of the mind that evolved for more important functions. But as a result of that serendipity, music seems to offer a novel system of communication rooted in emotions rather than in meaning. Recent data show, for example, that music reliably conveys certain sentiments: what we feel when we hear a piece of music is remarkably similar to what everybody else in the room is experiencing.
Emerging evidence also indicates that music brings out predictable responses across cultures and among people of widely varying musical or cognitive abilities. Even newborn infants and people who cannot discern pitch enjoy music’s emotional effect.