Fascinating research reveals how live music impacts our emotional brain

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

live-music(NaturalHealth365)  Art, in general, is one of the most emotionally powerful products of human ingenuity.  Specifically, music seems to be the most potent influence on emotional energy among many forms of art.  A powerfully melancholic piece of music can drive you to tears, while the pounding beats of a DJ can drive you to a frenzied dance.

Researchers have long been aware of the direct emotional connection between music and the human mind.  However, a recent study explored whether there’s a distinction in emotional response between live and recorded music.  By examining brain regions like the amygdala and various subcortical areas, researchers aimed to uncover differences in how live and pre-recorded music affects our emotions.

Their results are fascinating and can be highly beneficial to those who enjoy music, even casually.  Let’s examine what they discovered and see how you can adapt it to your own life.

Scientists explore the emotional power of music: Insights from brain imaging studies

People who have attended an opera can attest to the profound emotional impact of music, while many others recognize the use of upbeat tunes to boost motivation during tasks like exercising or cleaning.  Music seems to have an intrinsic quality of amplifying both positive and negative emotions in humans.  Every society on the planet has, at some point or another, had music central to its culture or religious practices.

By using an MRI in real time, doctors and researchers can see how different cortical sections of the brain react to different stimuli.  Pain, pleasure, fear, and every other experience on the human spectrum light up a specific part of the brain, and we can learn from this type of information.

Scientists have long known that music can increase activity in the limbic system, which is primarily used to process emotion, particularly fear.  Observations of the amygdala, which is the hub of the limbic system, can be important to a variety of psychological factors in the greater human experience.

SHOCKING PROBIOTICS UPDATE: Discover the True Value of Probiotics and How to Dramatically Improve Your Physical, Mental and Emotional Wellbeing with ONE Easy Lifestyle Habit.

How music affects emotions

Researchers gathered a cohort of male and female participants who were exposed to piano music, both in a live setting and in a pre-recorded setting used as a control.  They were hooked up to a real-time MRI machine and exposed to 30-second intervals of 12 different pieces of music.  Half were considered unpleasant, and the other half were considered emotionally uplifting based on the consonants and dissonance of the pieces.

The activity in the amygdala and associated cortical and subcortical areas in the brain was measured for visual expression of music-induced emotional states.  This was repeated for the pre-recorded and live music stimuli.

Researchers found that the live piano music evoked significantly more action potential and visual affectation within the amygdala and the other subcortical regions associated with the limbic system.  Both pleasant and unpleasant emotional responses were heightened within live music parameters versus pre-recorded instances.

Why does live music trigger stronger emotions?

Researchers have yet to pinpoint the exact reasons behind this phenomenon.  However, they propose several potential explanations, with a key factor being the heightened emotional resonance in the presence of others.  Attending a concert, for instance, allows individuals to experience the emotional reactions of both the musician and the surrounding audience, which can amplify their own emotional responses.

Secondly, the music played in a live setting is inconsistent.  Improvisation on the part of the musician, dynamic sound problems, acoustics from the setting, and variations in the timing and length of the music all play a part in the emotional experience.  Researchers believe that part of this is because the brain tries to anticipate what is coming next based on prior experience, and live performance can have many variables that change, creating an experience of surprise, wonder, and/or a sub-level of fear.  Regardless of the reason, this all adds up to a more profound emotional experience.

Why live music is good for you

Now that we understand live music’s emotional potency, why does it matter?  If you are an ardent music lover, then you already understand that the feeling you get from listening to a live performance in a crowd of people is extremely powerful, especially when compared to just listening to a recording.

Music can reduce pain and stress levels and improve mood, and live music amplifies that effect significantly.  Previous studies have revealed that individuals attending live concerts experience lower stress levels.  Hormone levels in concertgoers indicate reduced stress responses, and participants generally report increased feelings of happiness in the hours following the event.

To make the most of this insight, consider adding more live music experiences to your life.  Luckily, live performances are abundant in many towns across the globe.  Whether you catch a show at a local bar, enjoy live music at a fair, attend a musical put on by a school or community center, or explore other musical events, you’ll have plenty of chances to unwind and boost your happiness by immersing yourself in the live music scene.

Going out to enjoy live music isn’t just about the tunes – it’s also a chance to connect with others, which is crucial for a long and healthy life, as studies suggest.  Rather than staying cooped up indoors, glued to the TV in isolation, why not head out to a local music venue?  Leave your phone behind, dive into the lively atmosphere, chat with friends or strangers, savor some good food and drinks, and let the music lift your spirits.

Listening to enjoyable music is all about immersing yourself in the moment and embracing the joy of shared experiences.  Sing along, dance, and enjoy yourself in the moment.  Simply put, live (or recorded) music is healthy food for your brain.

Sources for this article include:


Notify of

1 Comment
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments