Listening to a favorite pop song or classic rock hit can trigger the same chemical reactions in the body as having sex, eating good food or taking drugs…
A team of scientists from Montreal’s McGill University found that the feel-good neurotransmitter dopamine was released when people listened to their favorite tunes, the newspaper reported.
Neuroscientist Robert Zatorre, who led the research, said the findings helped explain why music was important throughout history. He said it was well-known that dopamine is produced when people eat and have sex, reinforcing acts essential to survival.
“For reasons that we don’t entirely understand, somehow music was able to kick in with the same system, and that gives it power that it might not otherwise have,” Zatorre said. [Fox News]
Check out the graph below (c) which shows activity in two brain areas against time while subjects listen to music [from Nature Neuroscience]. ‘Experience’ is the section of a track that gives them ‘chills’ and ‘anticipation’ is the music just before it. Given that the subjects’ choices of music included Yann Tiersen, Tiesto, various classical pieces and even Explosions in the Sky’s ‘First Breath After Coma’, I’m not surprised they got such a kick! Now I’ll have to go listen to them: just one more hit, I promise.
Here’s the abstract of the paper if you’re neuroscientifically inclined:
Music, an abstract stimulus, can arouse feelings of euphoria and craving, similar to tangible rewards that involve the striatal dopaminergic system. Using the neurochemical specificity of [11C]raclopride positron emission tomography scanning, combined with psychophysiological measures of autonomic nervous system activity, we found endogenous dopamine release in the striatum at peak emotional arousal during music listening. To examine the time course of dopamine release, we used functional magnetic resonance imaging with the same stimuli and listeners, and found a functional dissociation: the caudate was more involved during the anticipation and the nucleus accumbens was more involved during the experience of peak emotional responses to music. These results indicate that intense pleasure in response to music can lead to dopamine release in the striatal system. Notably, the anticipation of an abstract reward can result in dopamine release in an anatomical pathway distinct from that associated with the peak pleasure itself. Our results help to explain why music is of such high value across all human societies.