NEW YORK— Whether it's the Beatles or Beethoven, people like music for the same
reason they like eating or having sex: It makes the brain release a chemical that gives
pleasure, a new study says. The brain substance is involved both in anticipating a particularly thrilling musical moment and in feeling the rush from it, researchers found.
Previous work had already suggested a role for dopamine, a substance brain cells release to communicate with each other. But the new work, which scanned people's brains as they listened to music, shows it happening directly. While dopamine normally helps us feel the pleasure of eating or having sex, it also helps produce euphoria from illegal drugs. It's active in particular circuits of the brain.
The tie to dopamine helps explain why music is so widely popular across cultures, Robert Zatorre and Valorie Salimpoor of McGill University in Montreal write in an article posted online Sunday by the journal Nature Neuroscience.
The study used only instrumental music, showing that voices aren't necessary to
produce the dopamine response, Salimpoor said. It will take further work to study how
voices might contribute to the pleasure effect, she said.
The researchers described brain-scanning experiments with eight volunteers who were
chosen because they reliably felt chills from particular moments in some favorite pieces of music. That characteristic let the experimenters study how the brain handles
both anticipation and arrival of a musical rush. Results suggested that people who enjoy music but don't feel chills are also experiencing dopamine's effects, Zatorre said.
I couldn't find the journal article; check out the story HERE.