Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Research identifies classical music’s unique selling point

Music, an abstract stimulus, can arouse feelings of euphoria and craving, similar to tangible rewards that involve the striatal dopaminergic system… These results indicate that intense pleasure in response to music can lead to dopamine release in the striatal system... Our results help to explain why music is of such high value across all human societies.
Those extracts are from a paper in the journal Nature Neuroscience. Complex science needs to be treated with respect and caution, but the findings do resonate with recent paths about the links between classical music and hallucinogens, kinetic art (thanks go to Norman Perryman for the heads up), therapy, and ecstatic traditions such as Sufism. They also suggest exploitable similarities between music and tangible reward systems such as sex and gourmet food, and more importantly to opportunities for the medical application of music – in particular as a palliative for Parkinson’s disease, because a loss of dopamine-secreting neurons causes the disease. If I was still responsible for music promotion I would forget the over-exploited entertainment factor, and instead work at communicating classical music’s unique selling point, the feel good factor.

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Anonymous said...

One danger in seeking to communicate the feel good factor is over-simplification. For some promoters, this means classical music must be "relaxing" and "pleasant" (and preferably familiar). The idea that music that is tumultuous or angst-ridden or gloomy or challenging might also leave the listener "feeling good" is dismissed. Which wouldn't be a problem, except promotion along these lines ultimately trains audiences to expect that all classical music concerts will be relaxing and pleasant (rather than, say, exciting or exhilarating or profound or even disturbing) and disappointment surely follows.

Pliable said...

Thomasina, you are perfectly correct, and I must take the blame for some of that over-simplification. “Feel good factor” is a useful handle to describe the dopamine release benefits of classical music, but it is also misleading because what we are really talking about is “consciousness raising”.

Exploration of this area is hampered by the inadequate vocabulary that classical music has available to describe such phenomena, and I know that Norman Perryman considers “kinetic art” a compromise description of his consciousness raising performances that he uses for lack of a more suitable alternative. All the evidence suggests these are areas worth exploring further, but we do need to be cleverer at describing them.

You are quite correct in the dangers of building expectations of “pleasant” and “relaxing” experiences. One of the many paths that led me to this post is Sufi music. This generates “euphoria”, “craving” and “intense pleasure”, presumably by dopamine release. But it most definitely falls outside the conventional definitions of “pleasant” and “relaxing”.

Pliable said...

Music and Parkinson's - http://www.medilexicon.com/medicalnews.php?newsid=228564