Why does music move us to tears?

25 February 2008

Question

Why does music move us to tears?

Answer

We put this to Dr Ian Cross:

A whole variety of reasons but music does seem to have profound affective effects. That is, it works deeply on our emotions. Daniel Levitin was talking previously about some ways in which limbic centres in the brain are activated by experiencing music. A lot of this probably depends on prior experience. You probably wouldn't be moved to tears by hearing either of those two previous clips [Ndroje balendro and Wonga]. Chris: I was! Ian: For thirty-six hours, perhaps. But you could be moved to tears simply on the basis of association between a piece of music and a particular episode of your life and a particular previous position or preference to use a particular type of music to do things like move yourself to tears.Chris: It's stimulating a memory which is itself associated with some emotion and that's why it's making you feel happy or sad. Ian: Most likely.

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