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How Music Affects The Temporal Lobe and The amygdala

The temporal lobe serves a variety of roles, and one of them is language comprehension. This plays an important part in how we hear and react to the world around us, particularly in regards to conversation.

As our brain’s language center, the temporal lobe allows us to understand song lyrics. The temporal lobe is constantly engaged when we listen to music — even songs without lyrics.

The temporal lobe functions as the processing center for music, but two of its subregions allow us to further enjoy what we hear. Wernicke’s area is the part of the brain that analyzes and comprehends what we hear, turning the words of a song into specific phrases and stories.

Meanwhile, Broca’s area gives us the ability to form our words ourselves so we can sing along with the music or discuss what we are hearing.

While the amygdala is tucked within the temporal lobe, it serves a purpose that makes it stand apart. The amygdala is the emotional switchboard of the brain, managing both negative emotions (fear or displeasure) as well as positive emotions (enthusiasm or tranquility).

The amygdala ties into the “fight or flight” instinct of the brain; it is the part of the brain that processes sounds and determines our emotional reactions to them. So while the amygdala can alert someone to an approaching ambulance or an angry dog, it is also the part that makes us smile when we hear a familiar voice or the calming songs of rainfall.

The amygdala’s connection to music is an obvious one, and studies show that responses to certain music genres are almost universal. Music can trigger those same emotional cues as the sounds mentioned above: a horror film soundtrack elicits an almost primal fear, while a soaring battle march can create a surge of excitement.

Similarly, meditation music can soothe the mind and body to produce a calming effect. And a plucky pop song can force an easy smile, regardless of the listener’s previous mood. All of these physiological responses to music stem from the amygdala.