July 28, 2014

Could You Really Be Addicted to Music?

On January 9, Nature Neuroscience published an online article from McGill University researchers entitled “Anatomically distinct dopamine release during anticipation and experience of peak emotions to music.”

Essentially: “Music makes you feel really good.”

Any concertgoer can tell you this and can describe the post show rush they feel simply from listening to music they enjoy. But science doesn’t run on anecdotes, so researchers set out to prove what we all already know.

After rounds of screening to find individuals who reliably experienced chills when played their own selection of pleasurable instrumental music, eight individuals were chosen for the study. These eight individuals were then played their music selections and tested for physical indicators of a pleasurable experience such as dopamine activity, skin conductance, body temperature, pulse, heart rate, and respiration.

Researchers first used this data to determine that the reported chills during the listening experience were good indicators of peak emotional arousal.

They also imaged the subjects brains during these chills. What they found is that when subjects really enjoyed music, their brains showed increased dopamine (a neurotransmitter) activity in regions associated with the reward pathway. These regions have also been implicated in addiction, most notably, cocaine addiction.

Brain scan during music listening

Your Brain on Music

When discussing why they thought music might be linked to a pathway that reinforces evolutionarily positive experiences, the researchers noted that it could be related to an enhancement of emotions. The more you feel, and the better you feel, the better chance you have of surviving.

So the next time someone tells you they’re addicted to music, they might just be telling the truth. It’s not a problem, especially around Boston, as you can get a fix just about any night of the week. There are shows of all genres at the House of Blues, Paradise, and if you’re willing to venture out into Cambridge, my personal favorite The Middle East. You don’t even need to leave campus, however, as Brandeis usually draws in its fair share of musical acts through Student Events and The Punk Rock and Roll Club. Just last semester, OK Go played a Student Events concert in the gym and even friends who I never expected to see at a show turned up for a fantastic night of guitars, confetti, and dancing.

I think I’ll keep my music addiction.

About Alex Dainis

I’m a senior majoring in Biology and Film, Television, and Interactive Media, with special interests in aeronautics, baking and alternative rock. I currently work in a genetics lab on campus and am a biology lab TA. I plan on working in science media, ideally having my own science television show, in order to bridge the gap between the scientific community and the general public.

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