Everyone has their own personal tastes when it comes to music. Some people enjoy country while others listen to heavy metal, but why is that? Why is it that some people like one type of music, but not another? How is it that someone like myself, who has lived with avid jazz listeners, finds themselves enjoying rock music above all other genres? To answer this question, one must first understand what allows people to enjoy music in the first place.
Listening to enjoyable music triggers a release in dopamine in the listeners brain. Dopamine has been considered the main chemical involved in the feeling of pleasure in the human brain. It mediates incentive salience, a form of attention that motivates an individual towards or away from an object or action and causes a feeling of euphoria. Many drugs increase the release of dopamine in the brain, making them incredibly addictive, and music can do the same thing, though only with music that the listener enjoys.
Taking what has been established about dopamine and music’s affect on its production, Valorie Salimpoor, a neuroscientist at Rotman Research Institute, conducted a study that would track the brain activity of an individual as they listened to songs they had never listened to before. The study was found that, when exposed to a certain type of music, typically one the listener enjoyed listening to, the pleasure center of the listener’s brain, along with several surrounding regions, ‘light up’, so to speak, indicating stimulation.
This stimulation occurs, as stated by Salimpoor, when the music resonates with our brains’ “musical memory template”. These templates are a product of experiencing different music related events and how those events affected a person, both positively and negatively. Salimpoor has found that the brain’s pleasure center predicts how someone will feel when listening to an uncommon song by comparing it something they had listened to. This explains why new bands that fit under a familiar genre is enjoyed by those that listen to that genre.
With this study, it becomes clearer as to what causes divergences in music tastes. For me, my parents had a tendency to play their music throughout the house, something that I found annoying, creating a negative memory template. To combat this, I would watch YouTube videos, typically videogame compilations played with rock music. I found these videos enjoyable, thus creating a positive memory template that attracted me to all music that resembles rock and metal. This study, along with giving valuable data on how the brain functions, further expands the growing science on the capabilities of music and gives music groups everywhere an idea of how to produce music that their fans will love.