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The Science Behind Soulful Songs

Why do we love songs that make us cry? The strong emotions they invoke set off a physical reaction that increases our "feel good" hormone dopamine. So even though it seems like we're unhappy, we've never felt HAPPIER!

When psychologist John Sloboda asked people to identify the parts of songs that made them cry, he analyzed these passages and found that they all contained a musical device called an "appoggiatura," which is a type of note that clashes with the melody just enough to create a dissonant sound.

In the February 11-12 edition of the Wall Street Journal, Michaeleen Doucleff quotes psychologist Martin Guhn as saying, "When the notes return to the anticipated melody, the tension resolves, and it feels good."

Doucleff writes that a song like this is "a formula for commercial success: Unleash the tears and chills with small surprises, a smoky voice and soulful lyrics, and then sit back and let the dopamine keep us coming back for more."

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