Published Jan 14, 2011Here at Exclaim!, we all love music, but we don't often stop to think about why. It turns out that there's a biological explanation for our obsession, as scientists have found that listening to music causes the brain to release dopamine, which induces pleasure.
In a study conducted at McGill University in Montreal, the researchers used brain scans to study the way eight volunteers responded to listening to music. They found that the brain reacts to music in a similar way to sex, food or euphoria-inducing drugs. (Sex, drugs and rock'n'roll anyone?)
According to an article published by Robert Zatorre and Valorie Salimpoor in the journal Nature Neuroscience [via CBC], the researchers believe that the chemical dopamine helps to explain why the appeal of music is so universal and why it is an important part of so many cultures.
The study used exclusively instrumental music, proving that human voices aren't needed to provoke the chemical response. The participants in the study were selected because they all reported feeling the chills while listening to certain pieces of music. What the researchers found was that dopamine surged into one part of the brain 15 seconds before a favourite moment. When the moment arrived, a new response occurred in a different part of the brain.
There is still a lot of work to be done to determine exactly how and why the brain responds to music in the way it does. The researchers have yet to study how the brain reacts to new and unfamiliar music, as well as how music with vocals alters the experience. Also, the recent study focused only on those who experience the chills while listening to music, and not those who don't.
Still, it's reassuring to know that our musical fixation isn't frivolous -- it's biology.