Great Music Is As GOOD As Sex
It sparks the same part of the brain triggered by a delicious meal or a night of passion. Scans found areas in the brain’s ‘pleasure’ centre became active when people heard a song for the first time. And the more the listener enjoyed what they were hearing, the stronger the connections were in the reward region known as the nucleus accumbens. This is operated by the chemical dopamine which promotes desire. The study by scientists at McGill University, Montreal, pinpoints the specific brain activity that controls the decision to purchase music. Participants listened to 60 previously unheard music excerpts while undergoing fMRI (functional resonance imaging) and provided bids of how much they would spend for each item in an auction.
Dr Valorie Salimpoor said: “When people listen to a piece of music they have never heard before, activity in one brain region can reliably and consistently predict whether they will like or buy it, this is the nucleus accumbens which is involved in forming expectations that may be rewarding.
“What makes music so emotionally powerful is the creation of expectations. Activity in the nucleus accumbens is an indicator that expectations were met or surpassed, and in our study we found the more activity we see in this brain area while people are listening to music, the more money they are willing to spend.”
The nucleus accumbens also interacts with the auditory cortex, an area that stores information about the sounds and music we have been exposed to. The more a given piece was rewarding the greater the crosstalk between these regions, according to the findings published in Science.
Similar connections were also seen between the nucleus accumbens and other brain areas involved in high level sequencing, complex pattern recognition and assigning emotional and reward value to stimuli.In other words, the brain assigns value to music through the ancient reward circuitry of dopamine which reinforces behaviours absolutely necessary for our survival – such as eating and sex.
Some of these most evolved regions of the brain involved in advanced cognitive processes are unique to humans. Researcher Dr Robert Zatorre said: “This is interesting because music consists of a series of sounds that when considered alone have no inherent value, but when arranged together through patterns over time can act as a reward.
“The integrated activity of brain circuits involved in pattern recognition, prediction and emotion allow us to experience music as an aesthetic or intellectual reward.”
Dr Salimpoor added that the brain activity in each participant was the same when they were listening to music they ended up purchasing. This was despite the pieces they chose to buy all being different.
She said: “These results help us see why people like different music – each person has their own uniquely shaped auditory cortex, which is formed based on all the sounds and music heard throughout our lives. Also, the sound templates we store are likely to have previous emotional associations.”
The study closely mimicked real life music listening experiences. Researchers used a similar interface and prices as iTunes.To replicate a real life scenario as much as possible and to assess reward value objectively, individuals could purchase music with their own money, as an indication they wanted to hear it again.
Since musical preferences are influenced by past associations, only novel excerpts were selected using music recommendation software to reflect individual preferences.