Here we explore why music can make us feel so good, why we evolved with music innately in us and some surprising facts about its effect on wellbeing.
The ability to create music is a very unique attribute of our species, and there are many theories as to why it’s part of our evolution. As well as being fun, encouraging and socialially bonding music can be profoundly healing for many.
Singing releases β-endorphin which acts as a natural painkiller and gives us a “high”. There is evidence that singing can also boost our immune system as it increases the antibody immunoglobulin A and reduces levels of our stress hormone, Cortisol. Memorising songs helps our memory and has even been suggested that it helps with dementia.
Amazingly the oldest instrument dates back to over 40,000 years ago. It’s thought that music has evolved as a way of creating community cohesion. Studies show that singing together leads to an increase in positive feelings as well as feelings of connection, inclusivity and levels of closeness, when factors were compared pre and post song.
From tribal ceremonies to techno parties, for thousands of years people and communities have come together to let loose and experience music. An ethnography of discoteque described clubs as “specially provided venues that are designed for dancing as a leisure activity”, and a recent study on American country dancing stated participants were motivated by a desire “to reject the excesses of individualism and revitalise a sense of coherence and integration, to rise above materialism and experience spirituality, many Americans are looking to by-passed traditions.”.
“If I were not a physicist, I would probably be a musician. I often think in music. I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music.” ― Albert Einstein
Endorphins play a key role in non-sexual bonding and kinship and are said to mediate the pleasurable aspects of music. As mentioned earlier, not only have studies shown that serotonin levels are increased by music, but the melatonin levels of people with Alzheimers increases too. Melatonin regulates sleep-wake cycles and its release during music being played explains why we have increased levels of relaxation when listening. Unsurprisingly dopamine is also released when listening to music which is possibly why we get addicted to certain songs! (Is anyone else slightly addicted to Arianne Grande’s “thank you, next”?)
Dr Jacques Launay researches the psychology of music and social bonding, and said “music has evolved as a pre-linguistic form of communication as a primal way of bonding. This can still be seen, for example, through lullabies, in mother/infant relationships, where language isn’t as effective as music in communicating with each other, or in large groups such as festivals or silent discos’
It seems that music, singing and dancing are things that most of us instinctively love doing. So in the wise words of pop group ABBA
“Thank you for the music, the songs I’m singing. Thanks for all the joy they’re bringing
Who can live without it, I ask in all honesty
What would life be
Without a song or a dance what are we
So I say thank you for the music
For giving it to me”
… and for giving us the time of our lives!