For millions of Americans, Sunday marked the year’s most anticipated television event: Pitch Perfect 2 finally released its Super Bowl spot. And it was aca-amazing.
If you’ve found yourself watching the 30-second clip on a loop, you may have science to thank. The a cappella movies' appeal has a lot to do with how our brains and bodies respond to music.
First, the basics: Listening to music triggers feel-good chemicals.
Researchers have studied why we love music for eons, and the evolutionary origins are vague—after all, it’s not necessary for survival. But several studies have found that when we listen to music, regardless of whether it's happy or sad, our brains release hormones such as dopamine and oxytocin, the same chemicals released when we have sex or exercise. Music also triggers endorphins, which lead to feelings of euphoria. It’s even been shown to reduce pain in fibromyalgia patients.
We especially like listening to familiar music.
You know that moment on the dance floor when “your jam” comes on you feel an overwhelming sense of excitement? Well, our brains respond even more powerfully to hearing music we already know and love. In fact, a 2011 study found that participants’ brains were “significantly more active”—particularly in the reward circuitry system—when they heard familiar songs versus new songs. Basically: They experienced more joy because they already knew the tune. The Pitch Perfect movies, which provides a constant stream of top hits, are a recipe for pleasure.
It’s not just listening—singing makes us feel good, too.
Do the Bellas look like they're having fun up there? They probably are. Research shows that singing, especially in a group, can reduce depression and anxiety and alleviate pain. For these reasons, it’s often used as a form of therapy.
In one study, cancer survivors were asked to sing together in a choir—and after just three months, improvements were seen in “vitality, social functioning, mental health, and bodily pain.” Another study found that singing in a group reduced depression in homeless men. And yet another study of more than a thousand choral singers found that singing produced an overall sense of well-being. There are about a million more studies on the topic, but the moral of the story? Don’t be afraid to belt out your favorite tunes.
Singing together bonds us.
One reason scientists think we evolved to love music is because it can be used as a social bonding tool. As mentioned above, music causes our brain to release oxytocin, also known as the “love hormone,” which is crucial to forming attachments. It’s released during sex, for example, and during breastfeeding, to help infants bond with their mothers. And during office karaoke nights.
Studies have also shown that, when we sing together, our heart rates and respiratory functions synchronize. We feel connected both emotionally and physically through song.
So go ahead, plan that group sing-along to Pitch Perfect before seeing the sequel. Your friends will literally love you.
Taryn Hillin is Fusion's love and sex writer, with a large focus on the science of relationships. She also loves dogs, Bourbon barrel-aged beers and popcorn — not necessarily in that order.