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Musics activates the reward centre in your brain

I love music. I play music in a concert band and I listen to a lot of music. I also have pretty diverse tastes. There are just a few types that I really don’t enjoy. I wrote a post a while ago that focused on what your music tastes say about your personality; today I’m looking into how listening to music actually affects your brain chemistry.

The conductor of my band will talk about how she gets chills when we play particular pieces really well. I know this feeling, there are certain pieces of music, like Rhapsody in Blue by George Gershwin, that trigger the same response for me. But what happens in the brain during these intense moments?

In an article published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS) a pair of researchers examined blood flow in the brain while the subjects listened to music that they had chosen as intensely pleasurable. They found that there were changes in blood flow specifically within areas of the brain that are involved in reward, motivation, emotion, and arousal. These are the same areas that are activated by other stimuli, like food, sex, and drug abuse, that are connected with euphoria.

Interestingly, these areas seem to be mainly activated by music that is perceived as intensely pleasurable. If you only like the music, but don’t actually get that chills feeling from it, the same parts of the brain are not activated. This leaves me wondering what I would feel like if I created a playlist that only consisted of music that gives me chills. I may have to try this.

Blood, A. & Zatorre, R. (2001). Intensely pleasurable responses to music correlate with activity in brain regions implicated in reward and emotion. PNAS, 98(20), 11818-11823. Retrieved from http://m.pnas.org/content/98/20/11818.full.pdf

About Tai Munro

I am passionate about making science, sustainability, and sport accessible through engaging information and activities.


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