woman listening to music smiling

What’s your favorite song?

Without knowing you, it would be hard for me to guess, due to the large number and diversity of music genres. But it would be safe for me to assume that your favorite song most likely elicits a strong emotional reaction.

When people describe their favorite music, they typically describe it as occasionally giving them “the chills.” You’ve probably observed this with your favorite music. But the intriguing part is that experiencing this phenomenon is not dependent on any one type of music.

Researchers at the Montreal Neurological Institute had participants bring in their favorite music. Although each participant described an intense emotional reaction, the music genres ranged from classical to jazz to punk. With so much variety, what was responsible for this underlying emotional reaction?

The answer, as it so happens, is dopamine. Scientists at McGill University uncovered a direct link between the elation produced by music and the discharge of the neurotransmitter dopamine.

Dopamine is a chemical released in the brain that affects 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 linked to dopamine, and dopamine to motivation, but the music itself is less important than the psychological reaction it brings about. This leads to some compelling implications.

Let’s revisit your favorite song. Has it ever given you “the chills” or provided a strong emotional reaction? If yes, you’ve just discovered one of the best ways to release more dopamine into your system, which is a brain hack for positivity and motivation.

So what genre of music should you go with to achieve these positive emotional responses? The chief insight from the aforementioned research is that it is dependent solely on your tastes. The music can be happy, sad, upbeat, slow, instrumental, classical, rock, or hip-hop. The trick is taking inventory of the emotional responses you obtain from various songs and genres.

Once you understand how you respond viscerally to specific songs, you can make use of those songs to bring about the sought after emotional reaction, producing the ideal emotional state for each scenario.

For instance, if heavy metal gets you pumped up and inspired for a workout, you may want to listen to your favorite Metallica CD while heading to the gym. Conversely, if you’re hoping to loosen up after a chaotic day at the office, perhaps the best of Beethoven is the approach to take.

And last, if you have hearing loss, consider that the latest hearing aid technology that can stream music wirelessly from portable devices straight to your hearing aids. This puts you in an exceptional position to take advantage of this research.

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


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