woman listening to music smiling

What’s your favorite song?

Without knowing you, it would be almost impossible for me to guess, due to the number and variety of music genres. But it would be safe for me to assume that your favorite song probably elicits an intense emotional response.

When people describe their favorite music, they typically describe it as sometimes giving them “the chills.” You’ve likely experienced this with your favorite music. But the interesting part is that experiencing this feeling is not reliant on any one kind of music.

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

The answer, as it turns out, is dopamine. Scientists at McGill University discovered a direct connection between the elation produced 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 important than the psychological reaction it brings about. This leads to some potent implications.

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

So what kind of music should you listen to realize these positive emotional responses? The primary insight from the above research is that it depends solely on your preferences. The music can be joyful, gloomy, upbeat, slow, instrumental, classical, rock, or hip-hop. The trick is taking stock of the emotional reactions you obtain from various songs and genres.

Once you know how you react viscerally to certain songs, you can use those songs to elicit the sought after emotional reaction, producing the optimal emotional state for each situation.

For example, if heavy metal gets you pumped up and motivated for a gym session, you may want to listen to your favorite Metallica CD while heading to the gym. On the other hand, if you’re hoping 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 an exceptional position to reap the benefits of this research.

Simply dial in your favorite tracks 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 music genres bring about strong responses or particular moods for you?