Melody and rhythm can trigger feelings from sadness to serenity to joy to awe; they can bring memories from childhood vividly back to life.
From an evolutionary point of view, however, music doesn’t seem to make sense. Unlike sex, say, or food, it did nothing to help our distant ancestors survive and reproduce. Yet music and its effects are in powerful evidence across virtually all cultures, so it must satisfy some sort of universal need.
Music triggers activity in the nucleus accumbens, the same brain structure that releases the “pleasure chemical” dopamine during sex and eating.
Animals get that same thrill from food and sex, but not, despite the occasional dancing cockatoo, from music.
We wonder if there’s a layer of evolution to it, though. Humans require more emotional stimulus than other mammals to breed, and rely on social cohesion to raise their young.
It is possible that something with such a strong emotional and social impact might well serve an evolutionary purpose of bonding between mates and more broadly society.