It’s hard to deny that music and visual images have tremendous sticking power. But do those lingering sensations really make a difference? The advertising industry believes they do. Why else would intelligent people who run large corporations plunk down $3 million for a mere 30-second commercial during the Super Bowl? They bank their business on your likeliness to remember their message and respond to it in a way that benefits them.
Of course, the cause-and-effect process is not as simple as monkey see, monkey do. Rather, the media first affects our moods, attitudes and emotions. After a while, our actions can follow suit. A while back, we spoke with Dr. Richard G. Pellegrino — a doctor of neurology and neuroscience — about the effect that music has on our emotions. He’s been working with the brain for 25 years, and Dr. Pellegrino says that nothing he does can affect a person’s state of mind the way one simple song can.
Pellegrino has worked with opium overdose victims in a New York City emergency room. As overdosing patients struggled for breath, ER staff would work feverishly to prepare injections of Naloxone, a drug that disrupts the opium high. So what does this have to do with music? Plenty. According to Pellegrino, listening to music generates chemicals called endorphins in our brains — these natural opioids produce a high chemically similar to a drug high. Experiments have shown that if you give Naloxone to a group of people and ask them to listen to their favorite music, it suddenly becomes an intellectual exercise — the intensity of the emotions seems to diminish.
This makes sense. We’ve all experienced the emotions that accompany music. That’s why we listen. The promise of emotional impact explains why you’re more likely to hear “Who Let the Dogs Out” than a Celine Dion ballad at a sporting event — the people in the sound booth want to create a mood, and they know that music is a powerful way to do it.
But getting this effect while dumping verbal garbage into your brain is much like getting high on opium — it may feel so great that you don’t want to quit, but ultimately, you’re doing great damage to yourself. As Dr. Pellegrino told us, “You can pour messages in and if you pour the wrong messages in, they take on a particular power more than the listener understands.”