September 28, 2021

I, Science

The science magazine of Imperial College


It is starting to get colder. Dark clouds are rolling in over London and our coats and umbrellas are already back in action. It must be the festival season. Over the next few months, hundreds of thousands of people will flock to the British countryside for a few days of hedonistic revelry and copious amounts of loud music.

What is it about these events that makes us tolerate mud up to our knees and several days with no shower or comfortable bed to rest our weary heads? Dr Barry Blesser, the grandfather of the digital audio revolution has investigated why we derive so much pleasure from loud music even when covered in 4 days worth of mud and despite the constant warnings that too much exposure to loud music is bad for our health.

Music has the ability to change our emotional state and send us into an ‘altered state of consciousnesses’. Areas of the brain that are associated with reward and emotion are activated when we listen to music. Our neurological attentiveness is enhanced in a process known as arousal. This experience becomes heightened as the volume of the music increases. Dr Blesser compares this to having a double shot of whisky. If we view music as a stimulant like alcohol, caffeine and many illegal drugs then it makes sense that the larger the ‘dose’ of the stimulant, the higher the level of stimulation. The louder the music, the more intense our ‘arousal’.

Loud music has been found to have a number of other physiological effects on our body. Listening to loud music on a treadmill can enhance your performance without any change in your perceived effort. We become psychologically disorientated, our heart rate increases, there is a decrease in our vascular blood flow and our core temperature begins to rise. Some studies have found that loud music activates the same areas of the brain as euphoria drugs, resulting in the release of endorphins.

These effects may vary from person to person, and some may derive more pleasure from turning the volume up to 11 than others will. However, many of us don’t need a scientific study to tell us that loud music is pleasurable. The fact that the effects of this music alone are so similar to the effects of alcohol and drugs might persuade people to be slightly less hedonistic this summer, all you need is the music!

I’ll leave you with my favourite festival moment of last year, turn it up loud and test the effects for yourself:


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