woman listening to music smiling

What’s your favorite song?

Without knowing you, it would be tough for me to guess, due to the large number and range of music styles. But it would be safe for me to assume that your favorite song most likely elicits an intense emotional reaction.

When people talk about their favorite music, they typically describe it as occasionally giving them “the chills.” You’ve probably experienced this with your favorite music. But the fascinating part is that experiencing this feeling is not dependent on any one genre of music.

Researchers at the Montreal Neurological Institute had participants bring in their favorite music. Even though each participant depicted an intense emotional reaction, the music genres themselves ranged from classical to jazz to punk rock. With so much diversity, what was responsible for this fundamental emotional reaction?

The answer, as it so happens, is dopamine. Scientists at McGill University found a direct connection between the elation created by music and the discharge of the neurotransmitter dopamine in the brain.

Dopamine is a chemical released in the brain that has an effect on emotional regulation, pleasure, and rewards. As reported by Richard Depue, professor at Cornell University: “When our dopamine system is activated, we are more positive, excited and eager to go after goals or rewards, such as food, sex, money, education or professional achievements.”

So music is tied to dopamine, and dopamine to motivation, but the music itself is less significant than the psychological reaction it produces. This leads to some potent implications.

Let’s go back to your favorite song. Has it ever given you “the chills” or produced a powerful emotional reaction? If so, you’ve just discovered one of the most effective means to release more dopamine into your system, which is a brain hack for positivity and inspiration.

So what kind of music should you listen to achieve these positive emotional responses? The central insight from the aforementioned research is that it depends solely on your preferences. The music can be joyful, sad, upbeat, slow, instrumental, classical, rock, or rap. The secret is taking stock of the emotional reactions you receive from different songs and genres.

Once you understand how you respond viscerally to particular songs, you can utilize those songs to arouse the desired emotional reaction, producing the optimal emotional state for each situation.

As an example, if heavy metal gets you pumped up and inspired for a workout, you may want to listen to your favorite Metallica album while heading to the gym. Conversely, if you’re looking to unwind after a busy day at the office, perhaps the best of Beethoven is the way to go.

And last, if you have hearing loss, consider that the latest hearing aid technology that can stream music wirelessly from portable devices directly to your hearing aids. This puts you in a unique position to make the most of this research.

Simply dial in your favorite songs on your phone or portable device, send it wirelessly to your hearing aids, and let the dopamine start flowing.


By the way, what is your favorite song? And which songs or genres elicit strong responses or specific moods for you?