Australia’s public broadcaster, the ABC, recently aired a show on its science program Catalyst called ‘Music On The Brain’. It’s a fascinating study of the impact that music has on the brain, why it’s so effective for treatment of brain injuries and neurological diseases, and why it is the ultimate 'social bonding’ tool. Without music, human society as we know it would probably not have eventuated.
In terms of its relevance to what we do at SongDivision, it beautifully sums up music’s unmatchable power to bond humans together and to help us retain and recall memories. These qualities make it a wonderful tool for team building, communication and education.
Tissue alert! If you’ve got 30 minutes, I encourage you to watch the entire program, which includes heart lifting stories about how music is bringing incredible improvements to the treatment of Parkinson's and other neurological diseases.
Notes From The Show
Music, Oxytocin & Bonding
Music played a key role in our evolution as human beings, without it, we might not have developed into the human society we are today. Music was a way to bond people together. Oxytocin is the ‘cuddle chemical’, the hormone that is produced when we interact with our loved ones and creates emotional bonds. What results in more of this bonding chemical to be released into the body? Either interacting with friends or….singing as a group. A study conducted in Germany in 2014 showed that singing with other people releases twice the normal amounts of oxytocin into our system. This is just one of a number of studies in the last decade to have pointed to the strong affect music has on bonding humans together.
These studies have convinced Professor Robin Dunbar, an Evolutionary Psychologist from Oxford University, that without music, we may never have become human at all. “Music is fundamental to our ability to hold together large communities of individuals. Our pre-human ancestors bonded their groups by grooming each other (e.g. picking fleas off each other), which released endorphins and oxytocin, hormonally cementing social bonds. But there are only so many monkeys you can groom in a day. To reach the large group sizes that made humanity so successful, we needed to evolve something bigger and better. Something that would create oxytocin on a mass scale.” And that, according to Professor Dunbar, five hundred thousand years ago, was music.
So music evolved as a way of sharing emotions, which increased our oxytocin levels and in turn forged powerful social bonds.
Music & Memories
Why is music so much more potent than words at evoking memories? There are two reasons 1) Music is a ‘super-stimulus’, and unlike any other stimulus, it arouses almost every area of your brain and 2) Music is itself emotional, designed to directly stir our feelings. Many studies have proven that ‘emotional memories’ form a permanent record in our brain ('https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emotion_and_memory). So if a memory (or memories) are associated with a certain piece of music from our past, then every time we hear that music those ‘emotional memories' will come flooding back from the corners of our long-term memory banks. When we hear a favourite song from our teenage years, we instantly recall that first kiss, a summer holiday, the smell of our grandparents' rose garden.