This blog is part 3 of my series exploring Daniel Levitin’s “The World in Six Songs: How the Musical Brain Created Human Nature”. I would highly recommend you start at the beginning of 7-part blog series of Levitin’s book to fully appreciate his writing. I would also highly recommend following Daniel Levitin to continue learning from this musician and neuroscientist.
For those new to my blog, I use book chapters from each book I read as my blog prompts!
Chapter Three: Joy or “Sometimes You Feel Like a Nut”
Similar to my last blog, I want to focus on the chosen song before delving into the chapter. I think the best description of this song, however, is in listening and watching the commercial. Provided that you’re not allergic to chocolate, coconut, or almonds; my guess is you’re now smiling and hungry. This song has been the jingle for Almond Joy and Mounds since at least 1970, and you can still hear the tune in the 2011 commercial. The 1992 version, though, will always be my favorite!
If you’ve read my blog on joy, you know that I view joy as a constant, superceding emotions and circumstances. As Levitin’s third chapter is all about emotions, I’ll use another description he gives his readers: giddiness.
While there is intermingling, I think this latest read can be split into two topics: emotions and experiments.
Levitin returns to his conversation with Sting as he begins this chapter. According to Sting,
- “I think the first song was just abstract fun with sound. You know, opening your mouth and going ‘Aaaaa Ooooo Aaaaa Eeeee Aye!’ And once you’ve developed that as a sense of play, or a sense of opening the trachea and breathing — putting stuff out in the atmosphere — then songs come from there. But they’re essentially fun; it’s fun to make those sounds … it’s a simple vowel thing — it creates this bond, it creates this link between us all … They’re probably the most effective songs, really.”
Reading that quote reminded me of an interview the New Kids on the Block gave when they first reunited in 2008, saying that “Oh Oh Oh Oh Oh” were the five words that made them famous! The New Kids on the Block have performed six songs with those vowels (Favorite Girl, Cover Girl, Hangin’ Tough, Games, You Got it (The Right Stuff), and Tonight), and four out of the six were top ten hits for them in the late eighties and early nineties!
It is because of that “fun” that songs have become commercials. Levitin writes this has become the standard over the past 30 years, but as demonstrated by the Almond Joy and Mounds commercials, I am convinced it has to be at least 40 years!
Now the question is why does music make us happy, or why is it fun? The why will lead into the next section, but suffice to say, Levitin explains there is a link between music and the increased release of endorphins, immunoglobuluin, serotonin, and oxytocin as well as other chemicals. This “feel good” feeling is also related to health, stress reduction, and immune system fortitude. Endorphins might be a familiar term, but oxytocin might not be. Oxytocin is the hormone released during an orgasm; it is not only a feel-good hormone, but it also causes one to have a strong connection with another.
Unfortunately the links discovered between music and our ability to feel happy are just correlations. No one has been able to prove definitively that music can cause the release of chemicals in our body. Levitin writes, “there have only been a dozen or so careful, rigorous studies”. Creative individuals, then, are more likely to support a causal relationship whereas scientists will not. Daniel Levitin, as a student of both music and neurology, feels conflicted about the subject. It’s not enough to have quasi-experiments showing correlations, but he has seen what he believes are the effects of music on individuals. These beliefs need to be supported by the pure scientific method which requires that music be the only variable that changes. Stringent controls on experimental studies are difficult in a natural environment, so such a thorough rigorous study required by the scientific field.
As a research psychologist, Levitin’s conflict on causation and correlation makes me consider a research study. Unfortunately, I don’t have a laboratory; so I’m not much better than others showing correlations! I don’t have the years of music study as Levitin has, so I will have to rely on correlations as I was taught in my years of post-graduate study!
I really appreciate how Levitin introduces psychology/science in this chapter. Research will continue to be a passion of mine, even if other elements have crept in (music, entertainment, writing, etc.). The more I can learn about previous research that has been done can only be catalysts to push me toward my own research projects.
Continue to part 4 of this 7-part blog series.