Why studying music and the brain is so fascinating, and so difficult

Music is food for the brain and, consequently, the food of neuroscience. Studying how the brain processes music and how music changes the brain has fascinated neuroscientists for almost 30 years. But these two types of studies, how the brain processes music and how music changes the brain, are also very difficult.

“The problem is that there are often external factors that are difficult to control that could affect the results of these studies — including the background, age and musical experience of the participants themselves.” These factors can also change our brains. Actually, every experience we have has the capacity to change our brains, so trying to nail down all the external factors so that you can say, for sure, that music impacted the brain in the way you think is extremely difficult.

One of the interesting studies highlighted in this article looks at “uncertainty and surprise” in music. These are the moments when we think we know what is coming in the music and then the writer or composer hits us with something unexpected or unusual. Our brain can both dislike that we didn’t get what we were expecting and enjoy that we didn’t get what we were expecting. It turns out our choice of reaction can be heavily influenced by all those external factors like background and age.

So instead of a typical human reaction, we start to see the multitude of human reactions to the same stimulus. Music feeds our understanding of the world inside our heads.

Read more here

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