Human Response to Music

Listening to music releases certain neurochemicals according to psychologist Dr. Daniel Levitin.

Enjoyable music stimulates the brain to release dopamine, a so-called “feel-good hormone.”  Dopamine is a neurotransmitter, a chemical released by nerve cells to send signals to other nerve cells.  It helps regulate emotional responses.  It also enables people to seek rewards and to take action to move toward them.

Music can also prompt the release of prolactin, the comforting hormone that is associated with mothers lactating and feeding their infants.  Prolactin is also known as luteotropic hormone (LTH).  It is a peptide hormone and a protein.

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Music can increase libido, says obstetrician and author of “The Scientification of Love,” Dr. Michel Odent. Listening to slow, rhythmic melodies releases the hormone oxytocin in the brain. Sometimes called the “love” hormone or “cuddle” hormone, oxytocin regulates the ability to bond to others in relationships and is released by both men and women during sexual encounters. “Slow tempo music also creates an atmosphere of calm,” asserts Odent, “which encourages loss of inhibitions.”

Oxytocin is a neurotransmitter produced by the brain’s pituitary gland.

Oxytocin suppresses the activity of the brain region known as the amygdala, the area that processes fear and communicates it to the rest of the brain. It evokes feelings of contentment, reductions in anxiety, and feelings of calmness and security around one’s mate.

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Loud music can function as a self-medicating drug.

Barry Blesser, Ph. D. wrote:

Although the inner ear is thought to be the only means of sensing sound, there are reports that the sacculus (a component of the inner ear’s vestibular/balancing system) responds to low frequency sounds that are above 90 dB (Todd and Cody, 2000; Todd, 2001). Furthermore, the sacculus has neural connections to those parts of the brain that are responsive to all forms of pleasure. By activating the sacculus, loud music with a strong beat may be a form of vestibular self-stimulation.

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Dr. Neil Todd performed an experiment with a group of students at Manchester University.  The students’ saccular sensitivity was found to range from 50 Hz to 1,000 Hz, peaking between 300 and 350 Hz.

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The range of intensity between pleasure and damage is extremely small.

Prolonged exposure to loud music may permanently damage hearing and cause audiogenic stress symptoms.

– Tom Irvine

Audiogenic Stress

(Image courtesy of R. Bowen, Colorado State University)

Exposure to loud noises causes the human body to enter into “fight or flight” mode due to a perceived threat.

The hypothalmus in the brain sends alarm signals to the body in response to the threat.

Corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH), originally named corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF), and also called corticoliberin, is a peptide hormone and neurotransmitter involved in the stress response. CRH is produced in the hypothalamus.

CRH stimulates the pituitary synthesis of adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), also known as corticotropin.

CRH regulates adrenal function via ACTH and the central nervous system.

As a result, he adrenal glands mounted atop kidneys release the chemical cortisol.

Cortisol, the primary stress hormone, increases sugars (glucose) in the bloodstream, enhances the brain’s use of glucose and increases the availability of substances that repair tissues.

Cortisol also curbs functions that would be nonessential or detrimental in a fight-or-flight situation.

The adrenal glans also release adrenaline (epinephrine) which increases breathing, heart rate, elevates blood pressure and boosts energy supplies.

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The body’s stress-response system is usually self-regulating. It decreases hormone levels and enables the body to return to normal once a perceived threat has passed.

As adrenaline and cortisol levels drop, the heart rate and blood pressure return to baseline levels, and other systems resume their regular activities.

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Dr. Pawan Kumar, an Indian heart surgeon, said loud noise releases stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. “These hormones cause the heart to beat faster,” he said. Among people who suffer from irregular heart beat or arrhythmia, loud noise of over 80 decibel can lead to loss of beats and a sudden cardiac arrest.

“In some people, loud noise can cause the coronary artery to go into a spasm and induce a heart attack.”

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Persistent exposure to loud sounds, such as airport and traffic noise, can cause chronic hypertension, elevated blood pressure. This increases the risk of a heart attack or stroke.

Chronic stress of any kind is detrimental to the adrenal glands.

The consequences of adrenal exhaustion include fatigue, a less than optimally functioning immune system, cancer, thyroid disorders, obesity, arthritis, fibromyalgia, sleep problems, low libido, sugar cravings, poor digestion, chronic fatigue syndrome, auto-immune disorders, and many other chronic health issues.

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– Tom Irvine