Music triggers the same reward center in the brain as alcohol and cocaine, a new study reveals.
Neuroscientists in Canada focused on the effect of pop music in the brain using magnetic imaging and ‘transcranial magnetic stimulation’.
Stimulating nerve cells in the brain’s reward pathway led to more music-induced pleasure and motivation in participants, the experts found.
Communication between the auditory circuitry and the brain’s reward circuitry is why people find music rewarding, they say.
Neuroimaging studies show similarities between how the brain’s reward circuitry processes music and other rewards such as food, money, and alcohol
“Music’s ability to evoke feelings of pleasure has recently been the subject of intense neuroscience research,” say the authors, led by experts at McGill University in Montreal.
“Current findings indicate that enabling cortico-striatal pathways is essential for the experience of musical reward.”
Alcohol and cocaine work by stimulating the brain’s mesolimbic dopamine system, the reward pathway.
This path is stimulated by a variety of reinforcing stimuli, including food, sex, other drugs, and music.
Cocaine works by stimulating the brain’s mesolimbic dopamine system, the reward pathway
The pathway originates in an area of the midbrain called the ventral tegmental area and extends to the nucleus accumbens, one of the main reward areas of the brain.
In addition to reward, this circuit also regulates emotions and motivation, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health.
Neuroimaging studies have already shown similarities between how the brain’s reward circuitry processes music and other rewards such as food, money, and alcohol.
But they tend to be correlational by nature – they show a link between such stimuli, but don’t prove that one causes the other.
Researchers recruited 17 volunteers for this new study, which is published in JNeurosci
A screening question was asked before experiments to ensure that all participants preferred pop music, as that was the music genre selected for the experiment.
Diagram showing some of the major components of the brain’s ‘reward circuitry’ – the prefrontal cortex (PFC); nucleus accumbens (NAc); amygdala (AMY); ventral tegmental area (VTA); Hippocampus (HIPP)
The pop music fans listened to the songs while the research team measured their brain activity with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), which measures brain activity by detecting changes related to blood flow.
Prior to the scan, the research team indirectly excited or inhibited the brain’s reward circuitry with transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS).
TMS is a non-invasive way of stimulating the brain to stimulate nerve cells (neurons), using a electromagnetic coil against the scalp.
Attendees pressed one of four different buttons on a response pad to indicate their level of pleasure while listening to the pop music.
The exciting reward circuitry prior to hearing music increased the pleasure participants felt listening to the songs, while diminishing the enjoyment, the team found.
These induced pleasure changes were linked to changes in activity in the nucleus accumbens, an important region of the reward circuitry.
A functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) device, which measures brain activity by detecting changes related to blood flow
Nucleus accumbens is also directly involved in reinforcing and addictive behaviors in response to drug use.
Specifically, changes in activity in the nucleus accumbens predicted variations in responses, the team said.
These results indicate that interactions between auditory and reward regions stimulate the pleasure we feel when listening to music.
“ Music consists of a series of sounds that, when viewed in isolation, have no inherent value, but when arranged together through patterns over time, they can serve as a reward, ” said study author Dr.
‘Due to the integrated activity of brain circuits involved in pattern recognition, prediction and emotion, we can experience music as an aesthetic or intellectual reward.’
Prior research has also linked the brain’s reward pathway, including the nucleus accumbens, to hearing a song for the first time.
“ When people listen to a piece of music they’ve never heard before, activity in one brain region can reliably and consistently predict whether they’ll like or buy it, ” said Dr. Valorie Salimpoor, formerly of the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital, which was not involved in the new study.
This is the nucleus accumbens involved in shaping expectations that can be rewarding
Nucleus accumbens not only works, but interacts with the auditory cortex, an area of the brain that stores information about the sounds and music to which we are exposed.
CRAZY BEAT: MUSIC CHANGES OUR HEAT COSTS
Music can relax the body because brain waves can synchronize with the rhythm of a song, past research has shown.
This allows people’s moods to reflect what they’re listening to – fast or energetic music can make people feel alert and pumped, while slow music calms them down.
Slower melodies have been observed slowing people’s heart rates, which in turn slows breathing, lowers blood pressure, and relaxes the muscles. A faster heart rate has the opposite effect and can make people feel tense or uncomfortable.
Researchers at Stanford University in the US found that music can have the same effect on the brain as meditation and that slow, regular melodies are the most relaxing.
In keeping with meditative purposes, the most relaxing music often seems like songs without lyrics – possibly because thinking about words requires an active effort on the part of the brain.
The Stanford team said Native American, Celtic and Indian strings, drums and flutes were very effective, as well as natural sounds such as rain, or light jazz or classical music.