International team of neuroscientists, led by Bar-Ilan University, highlights five brain functions that contribute to social connection through music
Music is a tool that has accompanied our evolutionary journey and provided a sense of comfort and social connection for millennia. New research published today in the American Psychologist provides a neuroscientific understanding of the social connection with a new map of the brain when playing music.
A team of social neuroscientists from Bar-Ilan University and the University of Chicago introduced a model of the brain that sheds light on the social functions and brain mechanisms that underlie the musical adaptations used for human connection. The model is unique because it focuses on what happens in the brain when people make music together, rather than when they listen to music individually.
The research was inspired by creative efforts of people around the world to reproduce music-making together while social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic. This included people singing songs in unison from balcony to balcony, group singing on video conferencing platforms such as Zoom, and live living room concerts by the likes of Yo Yo Ma, Chris Martin from Coldplay, and Norah Jones.
The team fused the latest advances in social neuroscience and the field of music, including evolutionary theory. They synthesized these advances and highlighted five key functions and mechanisms of the brain that contribute to social connection through music.
These are (1) empathy circuits, (2) oxytocin secretion, (3) reward and motivation, including dopamine release, (4) language structures, and (5) cortisol. These five functions and mechanisms involve at least 12 important brain regions and two pathways which are mapped in the accompanying photo.