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How Does Sound and Music Affect Our Brain: A Guide To Music's Psychological Triggering Of Emotions

Music can make you reflective or sad

Music can make you reflective or sad

Certain songs will make you happy and upbeat. Music expresses different emotions in different individuals.

Certain songs will make you happy and upbeat. Music expresses different emotions in different individuals.

Music Expresses Emotions

Why are we affected so deeply by music? The answer is as much simple as it is complicated. Music can be used to relax, incite, inspire, excite, an entire plethora of emotions can be surfaced or repressed by the use of music, which explains why music is so often used in various therapies and as special effects in movies. Yet, what exactly is music? How does our brain and body know that it needs to cry during a sad song, and it needs to “fist-pump” during an energetic one?

While the answer to the above questions is easily explained by neuroscience, various psychological factors come into play when we hear a song. The first of these is past experiences. For example, you might feel tempted to cry to a song that reminds you of a breakup in your past, but your friend, who has not experienced a breakup yet, is unaffected. This is the very simple essence of what musically triggered emotions comes down to when we look at the concept from eye level. Don’t worry, it gets a lot deeper.

The Science of Music

What actually happens in our brains when our emotions are released while we are listening to music, is much more complicated. Electrical impulse and converted sound vibrations are just the beginning of the madness that your brain must sort out and deal with. Your ears convert the sound waves into “ear movement” by vibrating certain parts of your ear, and this movement is translated into electrical signals that travel through the eighth cranial nerve (also known as the vestibulocochlear nerve), into the brain. The electrical impulses don’t stop there, rather, they travel throughout various parts of the brain until the reach the auditory cortex on both sides of the brain.


Which Hemisphere Are You?

The Left and Right Hemispheres

Although the subject of musical response is a fascinating one, not many experiments have been done to observe the response of the brain to different auditory externalities. (Feel free to be the first pioneer to make this statement false.) However, we are not completely clueless as to the effects. We know that both the right and left hemispheres are responsive to music. The right side “hears” the music and responds with “pure emotion” while the left side takes that emotion and attempts to explain why it is happening. Pure emotion is when you have no previous memories that would cause you to react a certain way to a song, but the song still affects you. To use the earlier example, you might have never experienced a breakup, but you might still sulk and feel gloomy when you hear a sad song even though no personal experience exists to back up the pure emotion. The left side of the brain then takes the pure emotion and tries to justify and explain why it is feeling the emotion (this is where your mind starts to wonder around and you begin to access the conscious part of your brain, searching for explanations that might or might not exist.) For example, you might have heard a country song when you were 8 years old at your grandmothers house, and now, 20 years later, you hear it again. The right side of your brain immediately associates the song with feelings that you feel toward your grandmother, while the left side thinks: “Where have I heard this song before? Where?! …Oh yes! My grandmother’s house, when I was a little kid!” Get the gist? “The right temporal lobe also deals with hearing. However, its job is to process musical information or help in the identification of noises. If this area is damaged, we might not be able to appreciate music or be able to sing.” (How The Brain Works)

The Parts of the Brain


One experiment attempted to prove that the temporal lobe involved in musical perception, and although the experiment succeeded in doing this, it failed to prove what role the area in question had in some aspect of music. It is clear that many parts of your brain are stimulated while you listen to your favorite Mozart song or while you dance in a club to Techno and House, but the function of each part of the brain when exposed to music, is unclear.

Into dubstep?

Try An Experiment

Sit back and listen to the various songs below. Do the tones or sounds express different emotions to you? Be aware that a person doesn't need to understand the words to a song to respond to it. A sad tone might be enough to provide a different emotional response.

Works Cited

"How the Brain Works." Traumatic Brain Injury. Web. 04 Mar. 2011. <>.

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-Thank you!


thor on January 07, 2013:

Interesting, its perfect research for my science fair project. My whole project is based off of this one page. Thanks a whole lot!

dued on November 15, 2012:

i listen 2 hevy metal

Deya Writes (author) on April 17, 2012:

@spartucusjones: Haha! I feel like you would be an interesting test subject to perform an experiment with. Thank you for the comment

CJ Baker from Parts Unknown on April 16, 2012:

Very informative hub!

Also I listened to the 4 songs that you provide, and something weird happened psychology when I listened to the Alice Cooper song. All of a sudden I had the uncontrollable urge to start biting the heads off of live chickens.

wayseeker from Colorado on March 21, 2012:

I love looking at music and mind. I've done a fair amount of research on the subject, but none of it ever got quite so physiological. I love how you make it easy to understand.

I definitely lean to the right in my brain, but it takes everything to make the music really speak.

Thanks for a very informative hub!


Deya Writes (author) on March 20, 2012:

Haha Jane, perhaps some relaxing music might help? Best of luck, try not to think about it too much and just let your brain do its thing.

Jane on March 20, 2012:

wow thanks so much for this....its kinda awesome that your brain can do all head hurts now!!

Deya Writes (author) on March 06, 2012:

@gbhjk Thank you! Will fix immediately

@duke I'm glad you found this useful. Perhaps these will be of help too.

duke on March 05, 2012:

This is a really great work,i am actually writing about music therapy and your work has giving more to talk about. thanks and once again good job.

gbhjk on March 05, 2012:

poll says Rigth after you vote

MSantana from Madison Wisconsin on February 09, 2012:

Your brain in music is one of my favorite books.

Deya Writes (author) on May 10, 2011:

Ooookayyyy, random commentssss? Sure!

ms yancos on May 08, 2011:

ily you guyzzz

neesha on May 08, 2011:

me so hawt

perry on May 08, 2011:

tara omg your words are so inspiring. beautiful girl. brough tears to my eyes. now i needa cuddle.

perry on May 08, 2011:

wow i am soo touched thank you

tara on May 08, 2011:

omg i love this sooo much

LIVO on May 08, 2011:


grace on May 08, 2011:

very nice thankyou

hey babe

tara on May 08, 2011:


Deya Writes (author) on April 09, 2011:

I agree with you Midianite, I tried my own test, to listen to the 4 songs above and I wrote down what effect it was having on me. They each provoke different memories and experiences, music is mysterious :)

Midianite from Australia on April 08, 2011:

Voted up. Awesome hub. Music truly can alter moods and speaks to the individual in a way that nothing else can. Great, well written hub.

UltimateMovieRankings from Virginia on March 06, 2011:

Voted up and awesome...really liked your experiment selection of videos..wide range of emotions..very informative and interesting....

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