Music has an undeniable power over mind and body—and the science behind its mysterious sway is a hot topic at the moment. In the latest study to show music’s physical effects on the body, researchers found that volume changes affect heart rate and other physiological markers. But why? A recent NOVA documentary and a new article from Scientific American MIND magazine explore the vexing question of why music moves us.

In the new study from the journal Circulation, an Italian team showed that heart rate, blood pressure and breathing depth faithfully mirrored rising and falling sound levels in classical music. Earlier, the scientists had observed the same effect for musical tempo. These physiologic effects might intensify our emotional response to music and help explain how music therapy works in people with neurological impairments such as stroke.

Studies like this one help to answer the question of how music affects us, but researchers struggle to explain why. Patients with neurological problems that affect musical talent, appreciation or understanding are one source of important clues. Last week on PBS, the NOVA premiere called “Musical Minds” told the story of several such cases, based on neurologist Oliver Sacks’s book Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain. One story focused on Tony Cicoria, an orthopedic surgeon who developed an obsession to play the piano after being struck by lightning.

Although we might glean valuable insights from extreme cases such as Cicoria’s, we still lack a firm understanding of how and why the average person’s brain is so tuned in to music. Inspired by her own recreational interest in singing, Karen Schrock—an editor at Scientific American Mind—explores the latest research into this question in “Why Music Moves Us,” featured in the current issue of the magazine. As Sacks told Schrock, “Music is the most direct and mysterious way of conveying and evoking feeling.”