Photo: TEDx San Francisco
March 24, 2020
Chemicals like oxytocin and dopamine are important in human connection, well-being, pleasure, contentment, and meaning – aspects of healthy humanity that are strained by social distancing. Studies show intriguing links between music and oxytocin and dopamine. How can music stimulate these chemicals so crucial to well-being – especially in those most impacted by quarantines? Oh, and what is up with music giving us the chills?!
With me today is scientist, author, professor Indre Viskontis. Dr. Viskontis has a particular interest in the intersection between music and science, and is also known as “Dr. Dre” by her students at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, where she is pioneering the application of neuroscience to musical training, and at the University of San Francisco, where she is an Assistant Professor of Psychology. She has been on The Oprah Winfrey Show; she is a working singer and Creative Director of Pasadena Opera; and she is a fellow podcast creator and host.
- Oxytocin is affiliated with breast-feeding, sexual contact, bonding, increasing trust. It is an attachment hormone that modulates our behavior with others: oxytocin can make us feel very connected to our tribe AND can make us feel aggressive to groups of people that may be threatening our tribe. That’s why we can have a real viscerable reaction to music – people often claim to LOVE or HATE particular genres of music, such as rap, country, opera.
- Dopamine is often thought of as the “feel-good chemical.” It’s associated with the brain’s pleasure center and with various stimuli, including drugs, sugar and being in love. Dopamine is highly involved in our brain’s anticipation-reward cycle. Since its levels can be high in various parts of the brain whether we’re “feeling good” or not, Indre calls it the “salience chemical,” because it shows us what is important to register in our environment. (Salience is defined as “the quality of being particularly noticeable or important; prominence.”) Indre notes that it is possible to satiate on feelings of pleasure, but that doesn’t always lead to happiness and contentment. As she says in her book, “For most of us, happiness requires more than feeling pleasure; we also want to find meaning in a life well lived. But music taps into both of these needs. It can make us feel good and satisfy our search for meaning…”
- Indre explains how music gives us the chills!
Quotes from Indre’s book, “How Music Can Make You Better:”
- “For most of us, happiness requires more than feeling pleasure; we also want to find meaning in a life well lived. But music taps into both of these needs. It can make us feel good and satisfy our search for meaning…”
- “The one piece of music most likely to give someone the chills is Barber’s Adagio for Strings, sometimes called the saddest music ever written” (credit to the research of Indre’s colleague, Dr. Valerie Salimpoor).
- “When the melody finally reaches its destination, it’s as though the sun has broken through the clouds – we feel pleasure at the release of tension, the return to the tonic, just as we do when we finally come home, but it’s the journey that resonates with us.”
- “We enter the theater with a variety of opinions, beliefs, joys, and sorrows. But for a few minutes… [we] feel that there is much more that brings us together than separates us.”
- Investigations of the links between music, emotion and reward, Valorie Salimpoor
- Listening to the music you love will make your brain release more dopamine, study finds
- How Does Music Affect the Brain
Oxytocin can help anyone (especially the elderly and people with dementia) feel less isolated. Indre has these recommendations for taking advantage of music’s stimulation of oxytocin during this time of self-quarantine and social distancing:
Many talented artists are live streaming their music free during this time of quarantine! While Indre acknowledges that this is not the same as connecting in person, it IS better than being alone and listening to pre-recorded music, especially if the music is live-streaming – we KNOW the music is being created RIGHT NOW! This can be a great mood booster and a great way to feel connected with each other. Live stream a variety of concerts, such as opera, jazz, etc. This can be a magical moment for people to actively listen and (re)discover music!
Here are some ideas to get you started:
- List of live streaming concerts (updated regularly; mostly a variety of classical music performances)
- All Genres (updated regularly)
- The Metropolitan Opera: Free Nightly Stream
- The Metropolitan Opera: Free Live Audio Streams
Listen to someone else’s playlist on Spotify without judgement – not a Spotify-generated and recommended list, but a playlist that someone you know has specifically curated because they love the songs.
- Working singer and Creative Director of Pasadena Opera
- Indre’s book: “How Music Can Make You Better”
- Host and Creator of the podcast, Cadence: What Music tells us about the Mind
- Host and Creator of the science podcast, Inquiring Minds
Indre shares a song performed by her chamber music ensemble, Vocallective. The title is Chanson Perpétuelle (The Never Ending Song), Op. 37, by Ernest Chausson. In this poem, a woman describes a devastating experience with unrequited love. The song epitomizes the depth of despair that can be felt when you love someone and it is unrequited. This song is performed by:
- Indre Viskontas, soprano
- Joseph Maile, violin
- Matthias McIntire, violin
- Pei-Ling Lin, Viola
- Adaiha MacAdam-Somer, cello
- Keisuke Nakagoshi, piano
Listen to the full song:
This recording of Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings is performed by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, led by Leonard Slatkin, in 2016). According to work by Indre’s colleague, Dr. Valorie Salimpoor, this song is THE one piece of music most likely to give someone the chills, and is sometimes called the saddest music ever written. You can listen right here, but if you click through on the link to play it IN YouTube, you can read the comments people have left; and it is really fascinating to read those comments where people have described what this song means to them or the role it’s played in their life.
There are a couple resources I wanted to share with you. First, there is a LOT of upheaval and uncertainty and anxiety going on right now in our world, related to the COVID-19 situation. If you are having trouble sleeping at night, there is a song put out by Music for the Soul that is offering comfort to a lot of people right now. It’s called “I’ve Got This;” and founder Steve Siler (a guest on Ep. 20), has graciously made this song and its lyrics available for free streaming on their website (scroll down to “Listen” and “Lyrics”).
Second, Indre and her publisher have generously given a free copy of Indre’s book, “How Music Can Make You Better,” to a lucky listener! I just finished reading this book about a week ago, and I absolutely loved it. It’s made up of short sections that each touch on a different fascinating way that music benefits our lives – great quarantine-time reading or a great gift for someone who could use a little lift at the moment AND it’s a beautiful book that would look great on a nightstand!
Here’s what to do to enter the drawing for a free copy of Indre’s book, “How Music Can Make You Better:”
- post a screenshot of this episode to social media (or simply hit the social media links on the floating menu) and mention something interesting you heard in the episode
- tag me so I can see your post/enter you in the drawing AND – if posting on Twitter – tag Indre: @indrevis
You can do this by posting on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn. Do this before the end of the day on Tues/April 7, 2020. The winner will be notified the following day, April 8, 2020.
Thank you so much for joining me today. Hang in there during these interesting and challenging times – give yourself and those around you a little extra grace. As we’re all practicing social distancing, I’d love to virtually connect with you. If you come across any examples of how music is helping people cope with COVID-19 challenges, send them my way so I can share them. Until next week, may your life be enhanced with music.
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