By Claire McFadden
Every time I hear the first guitar chord of “Can’t Stop” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers blare from speakers, a divine intervention takes place. My heart swells to Herculean proportions and starts pumping an extra liter of blood through my veins. My limbs spastically flail and dart in futile attempts to keep my dancing trunk in equilibrium, and my slightly smudged lenses through which I usually see the world are instantly replaced by a kaleidoscope of iridescent globules and blobs.
Technically I can still see, but my brain is too preoccupied processing the symphonic signals coming from my ears to make much sense of where I am going, or who I am at all.
In simpler terms, my entire being becomes a disco ball.
We all know at least one song we can’t get enough of. When you take out your headphones, it’s already on your mind. When it pops up on an old and tired playlist, you just have to give it a listen. And if anyone briefly mentions it, you hear a quaking “I love that song!” before realizing it came from your own wide-open grin.
I’ve been through music slumps where all my playlists have gone stale, yet I lack the motivation to explore new albums. I’ll spend days skipping through Spotify and stopping on the same selection of songs that have never failed to delight and amuse my brain.
I’ve had several reflective moments contemplating how I don’t want to rip out my car speakers and hurl them off an overpass after listening to “Self Care” by Mac Miller three times in a row on the way to Dunkin’ Donuts.
Is my brain programmed to enjoy psychological torture?
As I began researching the psychological effects of music to assure myself of my own sanity, I came across a bigger question: Can we become addicted to music?
In a scientific sense, we can. According to cognitive studies, listening to music can have effects on the body and mind similar to psychoactive drugs. An increase in heart rate, dilation of pupils, rise in body temperature and a release of dopamine in the brain are a few of the physical reactions a good song can induce. Music can also influence the way a person behaves, perceives their surroundings and experiences emotions.
The brain’s responsive production of dopamine can be explained by our evolutionary instinct to survive. A study from the University of Central Florida showed that the nucleus accumbens in our brain seeks pleasure and reward, and causes addictive urges by increasing our desire to have a pleasurable experience repeated.
But why do our brains enjoy music so much?
A study from the University of Melbourne showed that while participants listened to their favorite song, their brains produced greater amounts of dopamine before their emotional peak. As you continue to replay a song, your brain is able to predict and anticipate the outcome of the experience with more ease. The anticipation of a reward is the addictive element that makes you crave certain foods, spiral into drug dependency or play “Lithium” by Nirvana so many times that your coworker deletes Spotify off of the staff computer.
But when it comes to music, I don’t believe addiction is a negative thing. Music inspires connection, emotion and growth. It gives and never takes, which you can’t say about many things.
I’ve compiled a playlist made up of the songs that I addictively play on repeat, and can never skip. They’re not necessarily my favorite songs, but I sure know every word to them. It features a variety of artists and genres, but I couldn’t help incorporating three Red Hot Chili Peppers songs (I could’ve included about 10 more).
These songs bring me joy, inspiration and relief. I hope at least one of them bestows the same gifts upon you.