Most of us do not need proof that listening to music can lift our mood. We simply accept what experience tells us.
That does not stop researchers from looking for reasons why music positively affects our feelings and perceptions. Scientists in Finland at the University of Helsinki, for instance, have made some interesting music-related discoveries.
These science sleuths examined 24,000 genes of 48 individuals listening to Mozart’s third violin concerto—an emotionally stirring piece of music. The results were compared to the genes of a control group that did not hear music.
One gene in the Mozart group that was “switched on” by hearing the music is called synuclein-alpha, or SNCA for short. This gene is found on a chromosome in a significant genome area related to musical ability.
SNCA is involved with the release and transportation of the neurotransmitter dopamine. Dopamine is active in our brain’s reward center and is associated with pleasure, positive mood, and increased motivation.
The expression of other genes was enhanced by listening to music as well, including:
- genes that slow the degeneration of neural pathways.
- genes the facilitate message transmission throughout the brain
- genes important for memory and learning.
The more aptitude a study participant had for music, the more their genes were turned on by the sounds. In the most musically inclined listeners, 45 to 97 genes were positively affected by Mozart’s tune.
For the Birds
The Helsinki study also showcases the interrelatedness of species. Several of the genes enhanced by music during this study are the same as those responsible for vocalizations in songbirds. Maybe this is why birdsong can be so uplifting to the human heart and mind.
At the root of all power and motion, there is music and rhythm, the play of patterned frequencies against the matrix of time. Before we make music, music makes us. ~ George Leonard