Saturday, November 25, 2023

Do You Love Christmas Music? It's Because of Prolactin

Daniel Levitin, an author and musician in Los Angeles and a professor emeritus of psychology and neuroscience at McGill University in Montreal, said research has shown that most people in Western countries use music to self-soothe. “They know that there are certain kinds of music that will put them in a good mood,” he said. “Christmas music is a reliable one for a lot of people.”

The NY Times reports the healing effects of music have long been studied. Mr. Levitin participated in a 2013 study that concluded that music boosts the body’s immune system and reduces stress.

Levitin said that listening to a song that has not been heard in a long time can transport a person back in time. “That’s the power of music to evoke a memory,” he said. “With those memories come emotions and possibly nostalgia, or anger, or frustration, depending on your childhood.”

For the people who find joy in Christmas music, the brain may increase serotonin levels and may release prolactin a soothing and tranquilizing hormone that is released between mothers and infants during nursing, Levitin said.

Conversely, if negative memories and feelings are associated with Christmas, the same songs could cause the brain to release cortisol, the stress hormone that increases the heart rate, and trigger the amygdala, the brain’s fear center. “There are a lot of people who, when Christmas time comes around, they just want to run home and put their head under the covers and wait it all out,” Mr. Levitin said.

Christmas music, like all forms of music, is powerful. But this genre is perhaps more potent than other forms of music because the holiday season itself is emotionally charged. It represents the ideals that most humans strive for like equality, tolerance, love and tranquillity. “For some of us, that’s an inspiring message,” Mr. Levitin said. “For others of us, it just draws in stark relief how far we are from achieving that.”

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