Sex, drugs, music and dopamine

You know the feeling: there is some music that sends chills up your spine. That is a real sensation and now new research is telling us that the anticipation of spine-tingling music is underpinned by the same chemical processes as the high provided by more tangible things such as sex, food, and drugs.

For the new research, the investigators found people who really were physically effected by certain pieces of music. Those people then had scans taken of their brains while they listened to their favourite music. The participants completed surveys about their pleasure levels and the scanning was done using PET (positron emission technology) and fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging).

Using PET as well as fMRI scanning allowed brain function to be measured during both the anticipation and the consumption phase of the music listening experience.

The results showed that different parts of the brain responded to different parts of the music experience. The caudate nucleus was involved in anticipation and the nucleus accumbens was involved in the actual experiencing of the music. Switching between these two parts of the brain is like switching between tension and resolution.

All of the activity though is associated with the release of the pleasure promoting chemical dopamine. The pleasure of dopamine is part of the reward system of the brain and just anticipating an abstract thing like music has real physical effects in your reward circuitry; just like having sex or eating certain foods.

Music my friends, hath more than charms, it hath rewards.

So for those thousands, if not millions, of Radiohead fans who are eagerly, dopamine-drippingly, anticipating the release of the band’s new album The King of Limbs in digital form tomorrow, you needn’t bother with sex and drugs…you’ve already got your dopamine high for the weekend.

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The WellBeing Team

The WellBeing Team

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