Music’s Effects on Mood Based on Genetics

Sounds like noise and music affect us emotionally, but in different ways, a variability possibly based on genetics. Such are the findings of a new paper published in Neuroscience.

Humans are not indifferent to sounds. We are living beings who hear, with not only the ability to respond but with also susceptibilities. Previous research has shown that music and noise can influence us, our moods and emotions. This link might be mediated by neurotransmitter dopamine which has been associated with the regulation of our moods and emotional states. This effect will, however, differ from one person to another, because of the varied functionality of the chemical, says the new study.

The recent research is based on imaging genetics, and has been conducted by Aarhus University‘s Professor Elvira Brattico and scientists from University of Helsinki (Finland). The team looked into the effects of sounds on the physiology of the brain and on affective behaviour by making 38 participants undergo functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) while they listened to music and noise during an emotion-processing task. The volunteers were found to be of two particular genotypes (GG and GT), with respect to dopamine genes. This categorisation was the result of a difference in the function of a gene expressing dopamine—D2 receptor gene. The functional variation was then linked with a differential susceptibility with respect to the influence of music and noise on two categories of individuals, those with GG genotype and another group with GT genotype.

GG participants had enhanced moods after listening to music while GT subjects had deteriorated moods following exposure to music. Another finding showed that music decreased brain striatal activity of GTs and the brain prefrontal activity of GGs during a task of processing emotional faces.

The new study constitutes the first evidence that showcase a biological source accounting for differences in the effects of sound on the emotional responses of individuals.

“This study represents the first use of the imaging genetics approach in the field of music and sounds in general. We are really excited about our results because they suggest that even a non-pharmacological intervention such as music, might regulate mood and emotional responses at both the behavioral and neuronal level,” says Professor Elvira Brattico.

“More importantly, these findings encourage the search for personalized music-based interventions for the treatment of brain disorders associated with aberrant dopaminergic neurotransmission as well as abnormal mood and emotion-related brain activity.”

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