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The Language of Emotions in Music

The enjoyment of music differs across dementia types.

The enjoyment of music differs across dementia types and could be something important to consider in the application of music therapies.

By Sharpley Hsieh

Patients who have been diagnosed with dementia are helping scientists determine which areas in the brain are necessary for identifying emotions in music.

Sharpley Hsieh is a Postdoctoral Fellow with the Frontier Frontotemporal Dementia Research Group at Neuroscience Research Australia.

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Music is said to be like shorthand for emotions. The power of music to convey emotion is one of the main reasons people listen to and enjoy music.

The study of music and emotions in music is currently a hot topic in cognitive neuroscience. A number of important findings have surfaced in recent years to answer some important questions.

First, are emotions in music universally understood? Scientists who interviewed members of isolated tribes have shown that music seems to be a common language across all people. For instance, the Mafa tribe live in a remote area in Africa and many tribe members had never previously heard any Western music. Despite this, they were still able to identify feelings in Western music at a level that was above chance performance.

Another critical question has been what happens in our brains when we listen to music. Studies have shown that hearing music and the consequent pleasure we experience is associated with the release of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine release is associated with other enjoyable activities like eating chocolate.

Finally, scientists are also interested in asking which areas of the brain are critical for us to know about emotions in music. Does it rely on brain regions known to be important for recognising other emotions, such as when we understand the meaning of a smile or frown on a face? Or does...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.