Think about your favourite song, what the tune makes you feel, how the words move you and how the melody never leaves your lips even for an instance after you’ve heard it a few times in a day. Play your favourite song now, and let it wash over you. I don’t know what your favourite song is, it might belong to any genre, it might have all high notes or it might be laced with low ones too.
Your favourite song has probably helped you through some tough times in your life, been with you when you were in the culmination in your life and so on. There are so many emotions attached to the song that it probably gave you a chill at certain times. Studies show that a lot of us feel a tingling in our skin when we hear our favourite song, and this is known as “frisson” in science and roughly translates as a “skin orgasm” in a layman’s language. Our favourite songs have the ability to make us elicit physical responses like lumps forming in our throats, increase our heartbeats, make us sweat and so on.
Matthew Sachs, a graduate student at the University of South Carolina has been studying the effects of music on humans since his undergraduate days at Harvard University. Around last year, Sachs and his team presented a study that he conducted with about twenty students, where 50% of the students reported to having had chills when they listened to their favourite song while the remaining 50% did not report anything of the sort.
This observation was taken up by the researches and after brain scans being conducted, it was found that the individuals who had felt chills had neutral connections between their auditory cortex and emotional processing cortex along with their prefrontal cortex in a significantly higher number. This is a characteristic of high intelligence and cognitive abilities, which means that they possess the ability to actually understand the song on a deeper level, deconstructing the emotional and musical aspects.
There are certain drawbacks in the study as there are a lot of uncontrollable, variable factors involved in the study as sometimes the chills might not be a direct effect of the neural connections but individual connections that a person might have with the song, and situations like this cannot be considered or recreated in a lab.
Keeping all of this in mind, the study and its results cannot be ignored. Sachs believes that music has a bigger potential than what it is being used for at the moment as it is no mystery how our favourite songs have helped us through the most difficult times in our lives. Music therapy is currently a relaxation technique but Sachs believes that there is a lot of untapped potential in this field and goes as far as saying that music can be used to ease mental illnesses too. He observes that illnesses like depression make living life and taking pleasure in everyday activities a difficult task and he opines that music can be pretty helpful in these cases.
He expresses his desire to work with patients of mental illnesses in the future, to gather more information as to exactly how it will work and improve on the existing techniques.
Music helps us recognise feelings and make them pleasurable in a way that they were not, including feelings of sudden surprise or shock. It gives us better coping mechanisms and helps us develop a safe space inside our minds.
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