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Music can give you chills and goosebumps, and music can be addictive. But the music that turns one person on may just annoy someone else...
What makes music so pleasurable? and why does some music float our boats more than others? The short video below gives a quick overview of some of the science behind music, and the way (the right) music can affect our brains similarly to sex, food, and drugs.
The Dopamine Connection The bottom line is that listening to music we enjoy increases the effective and functional connections in the mesolimbic system, which is linked to reward processing (e.g., Menon & Levitin, Neuroimage, 2005: http://goo.gl/tcbwX). This system of the brain was designed to promote biologically adaptive behaviours, like eating and having sex. One of the key factors driving the system is dopamine - the motivation/reward/pleasure neurotransmitter. Of course, you can have too much of a good thing, so dopamine and the mesolimbic system is also linked to less adaptive behaviours, such as drug addictions. It turns out dopamine release can also be linked to music, even though it's a very different sort of stimulus than food, sex or drugs.
Music Moves You The first clear evidence that music directly affected dopamine release came just last year, in a study by Salimpoor, Benovoy, Larcher, Dagher & Zatorre (Nature Neuroscience, 2011: http://goo.gl/5kSv8). Researchers here asked people to identify music that really moved them (you know the feeling - when a song gives you chills and goosebumps). They then used Positron Emission Tomography (PET) to measure dopamine release in the brain when people listened to their own chosen songs (most moving for the individual being tested), or songs that were chosen by others (less moving for the individual being tested). Although all music could increase dopamine release in the brain, the songs that were most moving for the individual increased their dopamine levels 6-9% more than those that were less moving (this is equivalent to the dopamine increase associated with eating a really pleasurable meal), and in one case the moving music increase in dopamine release was over 20% (similar to the increase from highly addictive drugs like heroin).
What Songs Move You??? I got chills a few times last night listening to singers and musicians at the Jamaica 50 gala in Toronto (and no, I was not drinking rum...) - the music really kicked my mesolimbic system into high gear. So next time you get chills or a rush from a song you love, just remember to thank your brain and the wonderful neurotransmitter, dopamine :)
For more reading....
some related past posts on G+:
the role of dopamine in superstition (and why professional athletes may be more superstitious than the average person): http://goo.gl/XtPwG
creating music that moves Tamarin monkeys (#Metallica alert!): http://goo.gl/IVkwM
music and the mind: boosting baby brains: http://goo.gl/103OA
the neuroscience of creativity and the genius of Bob Dylan: http://goo.gl/gWKdv
also check out 's list of 7 Essential Books on Music, Emotion and the Brain: http://goo.gl/8hjPf and a relatively new book by , The World in Six Songs: How the Musical Brain Controls Human Nature -- already translated into several languages, including French, Japanese and German ;)
Happy #ScienceSunday (curated by me, , , with special guest co-curator again this week )
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