Music, the opiod of choice
Worth dealing with the Salon registration/ad-watching crap, this article is excellent:
In addition to the cerebellum, music taps into the frontal lobes (a “higher-order” region that processes musical structure), and it also activates the mesolimbic system, which Levitin explains is “involved in arousal, pleasure, the transmission of opiods and the production of dopamine.” This is why certain music can feel so pleasurable, producing such deep emotions — it’s simultaneously operating on various parts of our brains, and the response is something on the order of taking a hit of heroin.
Clearly, though, we don’t all find pleasure in the same music — and what determines whether we end up loving Billy Corgan, Billy Idol, Billie Holiday or Billy Shatner is mostly a matter of what we listen to when when we’re young. Studies suggest that we start listening to and remembering music in the womb (but playing Mozart to your baby, and indeed playing Mozart to yourself, will not make you smarter — studies showing that famous effect have largely been debunked). Humans prefer music of their own culture when they’re toddlers, but it’s in our teens that we choose the specific sort of music that we’ll love forever. These years, Levitin explains, are emotional times, “and we tend to remember things that have an emotional component because our amygdala and neurotransmitters act in concert to ‘tag’ the memories as something important.” In addition, our brains are undergoing massive changes up until the teen years — after that, the brain structure becomes more fixed, and it begins to prune, rather than grow, neural connections. Consequently it’s in our teens that we’re most receptive to new kinds of music (in much the same way it’s easier to learn a new language when you’re young than when you’re old). After that, you can of course find new stuff to love — but there is a reason that there’s such a thing as “your parent’s music,” and why, even though I can’t get enough Paul Simon, I’m far more emotionally attached to my generation’s music.
It’s a book called This is Your Brain on Music (amazon link) that looks pretty interesting.