The Social Neuroscience of Music: Understanding the Social Brain Through Human Song

David M. Greenberg, Jean Decety, Ilanit Gordon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


During the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen that people can adapt quickly to ensure that their social needs are met after being forced to isolate and socially distance. Many individuals turned immediately to music, as evidenced by people singing from balconies, watching live concerts on social media, and group singing online. In this article, we show how these musical adaptations can be understood through the latest advances in the social neuroscience of music—an area that, to date, has been largely overlooked. By streamlining and synthesizing prior theory and research, we introduce a model of the brain that sheds light on the social functions and brain mechanisms that underlie the musical adaptations used for human connection. We highlight the role of oxytocin and the neurocircuitry associated with reward, stress, and the immune system. We show that the social brain networks implicated in music production (in contrast to music listening) overlap with the networks in the brain implicated in the social processes of human cognition—mentalization, empathy, and synchrony—all of which are components of herding; moreover, these components have evolved for social affiliation and connectedness. We conclude that the COVID-19 pandemic could be a starting point for an improved understanding of the relationship between music and the social brain, and we outline goals for future research in the social neuroscience of music.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1172-1185
Number of pages14
JournalAmerican Psychologist
Issue number7
Early online date2021
StatePublished - Oct 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021. American Psychological Association


  • Covid-19
  • Music
  • Oxytocin
  • Social cognition
  • Social neuroscience


Dive into the research topics of 'The Social Neuroscience of Music: Understanding the Social Brain Through Human Song'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this