12 October 2010


MUSIC. In his article What Type of Music Makes People Happiest?, psychologist Warren Davies posits that part of the answer appears to be hard-wired into human brain physiology. "When you listen to music, it is processed in brain areas associated with, among other things, language, memory (short- and long-term), and emotion. But when that music is something you really like, something that gives you chills, the brain areas involved with pleasure and reward light up too.

"These reward circuits turn on when you eat, have sex, or do pretty much anything that's naturally rewarding. They are also activated directly by many drugs, which is partly why these drugs are so addictive ... The areas which music activate(s) are crammed with opioid receptors (e.g., endorphins)."

There are also personal and cultural components to our musical tastes. On a personal level, when we experience intense happiness or arousal, our senses record the sight, sound, smell, taste and touch stimuli happening in that moment. Because music and memory are so closely linked, later exposure to that particular smell or sound (music) will restimulate the feeling of pleasure, reinforcing both the memory and the sensory association. Similarly, on a cultural level, those raised in the western tradition of music experience more pleasure when listening to consonance (as opposed to dissonance).

Finally, it is clear that the music most present in our environment during our culturally formative years (say, five years old to 25 years old) will heavily influence our preferences. So it is probably not possible to categorically state (though in my mind it's true) that Classical music rules and punk rock drools. As with so much else in our lives, both nature and nurture exert powerful influences.

BULLIES. Pamela Paul, in The Playground Gets Even Tougher, illuminates a definition of bullying which is much broader and more pervasive than was true in my youth. Half a century ago (in my then-limited awareness), bullies were usually boys who picked on other boys. I was the target during several passages in my early teens -- at the hands of individuals and also of a pair of boys. Strength in numbers. My initial fear eventually turned to scorn for anyone whose personal insecurity would lead them to inflict emotional or physical trauma on another. (Woe betide the bully who attempts to intimidate me today -- my training in boxing, Army hand-to-hand combat, and karate allows me to walk through life with quiet assurance, which in turn makes me a less likely target for those who prey on someone perceived as being weak.)

Now, as Ms. Paul explains, bullying has become much more pronounced among girls, and also is surfacing in both genders at much younger ages -- as young as kindergarten. What could possibly account for such sociopathic behavior? The answers are important, not only for our children, but also because child bullies grow up to become adult bullies -- socially, at work, in relationships. I invite you to read her article (linked above), and draw your own conclusions.

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