By Jazlyn Moock
“Music and rhythm find their way into the secret places of the soul” – Plato
I laid in my bed, scrolling through my Spotify, contemplating what music to possibly listen to. Since discovering new music that I thoroughly enjoy proves to be quite the challenge, and since my usual go-to songs are about 5 plays away from driving me mad, I settled for my playlist from 2016. In the hopes of hearing some wholesome throwbacks to relax and quiet my mind after a long day of staring at a screen, I eagerly pressed shuffle. Though, to my suprise, quiet my mind it did not. Instead, my mind was transported to another world, one that I had not acknowledged in years, one completely foreign and peculiar to the one I inhabit now: 2016. With every note, I fell deeper and deeper into the life I used to live. With every song, I became more and more convinced my airpods were actually tiny time-machines. The neon shirts, the rose perfume, and the horrendous swoop-bangs all flooded back. Not only did this music remind me of the old Jazlyn, but made me relive her exact emotions, dreams, and dispositions. I listened and experienced as my swoop-bang, unicorn-loving, conspiracy theorist, romantical self. I got to say hello again to the relentless monster of preteen angst and, conversely, the preteen’s beautiful friend of fantastical hope. My conception of time left my brain as the music entered; my current identity faded as my previous one seeped through the songs.
The phenomena of feeling vivid memories and emotions through music has ever since intrigued me beyond compare and now, whenever hearing a song from my past—whether it be from the last week or the last decade—I take notice of my mind and its ability to remember and see the past through melodies and rhymes. I wonder, how can music ignite such intense memories and why? Is there potentially some secret evolutionary advantage to re-living 2016? All I know for sure is that some scientific, logical explanation must exist behind this seemingly mystical phenomena, as music tends to display this effect for far more humans than just I. For instance, current research has suggested that listening to music has been an effective method in the treatment of Alzheimers and dementia patients with impaired memories. By some unknown means, the areas of the brain that process music are less damaged by the disease and can unlock memories otherwise inaccessible. Not only this, but music has the power of enhancing cognitive abilities. In a study conducted by the National Institute of Health, music showed to reverse neural brain damage in people who had suffered through strokes, recovering their lost verbal memory, attention, awareness, and joy. The wonder of music, in this sense, seems to resurrect the feeling of life and spirit lurking inside of us when, at times, nothing else can.
The hidden factor behind this powerful mechanism you may ask? The answer has everything to do with the marvel that is human emotion. Where there is a spark of emotion, there is an equivalent spark of the mind and, subsequently, the memory.
In our brains the most potent and extraordinary flashbacks are those deep within the subconscious called implicit memories. They are not only strong, but are those that last a life-time. The key to these treasures locked in the dusty chests of people’s minds is their capacity to latch themselves to a specific emotion. To put simply, emotion provokes memory. Hence, the more I bawled my eyes out as a preteen or jubilantly galloped around—like any horse girl would, the more likely and intensely I will be reminded of that certainly…interesting time in my life. The function of implicit memories relates to Beiber, Brittany, and Beyoncé since music is one of the most powerful emotional stimuluses known to man. Recorded to incite humans’ 13 unique experiences of amusement, joy, beauty, relaxation, sadness, dreaminess, eroticism, triumph, anxiety, terror, annoyance, defiance, and exhilaration, across numerous cultural boundaries, music has been accurately categorized as a profound universal language and emotional trigger.
Some psychologists even describe music as “emotionally contagious,” due to humans’ ingrained empathetic nature. In the human brain, there are special networks of “mirror neurons” in which compel us to “mirror” the actions and feelings of those around us in order to ensure shared social connections with others. Therefore, listeners unknowingly mimic the emotion that a musician expresses—derived from our evolutionary craving to build friendships.
Additionally, music has the miraculous ability to release the beautifully happy-go-lucky hormone, dopamine. This highly emotional, powerful hormone tends to rush through the body due to two equally emotional and powerful occurrences, expectation and anticipation. When listening to our favorite bops, the brain subconsciously can expect what sounds will occur and highly anticipates the song to fulfill those expectations. The second the song strikes all of the correct chords, the brain becomes instantly flooded with dopamine. Satisfied with the outcome of each correctly predicted note and harmony, our minds burst into a state of euphoric bliss. This release of tension is a “physiological joyride” of sorts, increasing heart rate, body temperature, and blood flow throughout the body.
Such an intense occurrence of mental and physical activation combined with the emotions projected onto the listener in a song and the actions and environment of a person while listening can surely produce an overwhelming concoction in the brain. No wonder hearing a song from the past can elicit surreal experiences and feelings, knowing that the subconscious mind leeches onto emotion to form complex memories. No wonder hearing the Cha Cha Slide provokes vivid memories since each listen carries the memory of the previous school dance, the previous release of dopamine filling my being as I move to the beat of DJ Casper’s voice. The music, emotion, movement, hormones, and body heat of other hormone-filled kids builds off each other and intertwines into a pretty package of life, of my personal history. When every part of my brain and body activates while immersed in raw human emotion, the treasured memories hidden inside my identity for the rest of my existence are born.
This is the beauty of the relationship between music and memory; together they can trap any joy, fear, passion, anguish, or freedom that we endure inside us, preserving them in the most vivid, exquisitely real manner possible—easily accessible whenever we wish to press play.
Music, without doubt, you are the window to my soul.