James Asks "Why is it that music makes people happy?"
Music activates the same parts of the brain and causes the same neurochemical cocktail as a lot of other pleasurable activities like orgasms or eating chocolate -- or if you're a gambler winning a bet or using drugs if you're a drug user. Serotonin and dopamine are both involved.
As for music's emotional impact, there is some indication that music can affect levels of various hormones, including cortisol (involved in arousal and stress), testosterone (aggression and arousal) and oxytocin (nurturing behavior) as well as trigger release of the natural opiates known as endorphins. Using PET scanners, Zatorre has shown that the parts of the brain involved in processing emotion seem to light up with activity when a subject hears music.
As tantalizing as these bits of research are, they barely begin to address the mysteries of music and the brain, including the deepest question of all: Why do we appreciate music? Did our musical ancestors have an evolutionary edge over their tin-eared fellows? Or is music, as M.I.T. neuroscientist Steven Pinker asserts, just "auditory cheesecake," with no biological value? Given music's central role in most of our lives, it's time that scientists found the answers.
A recent study out of Stanford University found elderly patients who were diagnosed with depression gained self-esteem and saw an improvement in their mood when they were visited by a music therapist.
In fact, many hospitals across the country use music therapy to help patients heal. The Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, uses music as part of its cardiovascular surgery healing program to "promote relaxation and reduce tension, stress and anxiety." Because music helps these patients relax, it decreases their pain, improves their moods and helps them to sleep better, especially during recovery.
Recent studies have identified that Brodmann area 47, or BA47 (which is part of the frontal cortex in the human brain curving from the lateral surface of the frontal lobe into the ventral (orbital) frontal cortex) reacts to musicical syntax.
BA47 has been implicated in the processing of syntax in spoken and signed languages, and more recently in musical syntax.
Music therapy is both an allied health profession and a field of scientific research which studies correlations between the process of clinical therapy and biomusicology, musical acoustics, music theory, psychoacoustics and comparative musicology. It is an interpersonal process in which a trained music therapist uses music and all of its facets?physical, emotional, mental, social, aesthetic, and spiritual?to help clients to improve or maintain their health.
Music therapists primarily help clients improve their observable level of functioning and self-reported quality of life in various domains (e.g., cognitive functioning, motor skills, emotional and affective development, behavior and social skills) by using music experiences (e.g., singing, songwriting, listening to and discussing music, moving to music) to achieve measurable treatment goals and objectives. Referrals to music therapy services may be made by a treating physician or an interdisciplinary team consisting of clinicians such as physicians, psychologists, physical therapists, and occupational therapists.