Any music lover knows that a favorite song can make your brain feel warm, fuzzy, and invigorated.
A group of scientists have discovered that feeling is real.
This is your brain on music
A recent study found that musical pleasure comes from the human brain’s self-made opioids. These “homemade opioids” also get released when a person has sex, eats, or does recreational drugs.
Daniel Levitin, senior author of the study from McGill University in Canada, and other neuroscientists asked a group of 17 college students to bring two songs they enjoyed to the research group. Half of the students took naltrexone, a drug that blocks opioid receptors. The other half took placebos.
During the study, students listened to their two songs and two emotionally neutral songs. Researchers selected the emotionally neutral songs. The scientists observed the participants physiological and subjective reactions.
Physiological observations noted how many times students frowned, smiled, or moved muscles in their face. Subjective observations noted students’ enjoyment with a slider device participants could move that was attached to a computer.
The researchers eventually discovered that taking the drug reduced musical enjoyment. A bigger reduction occurred during the songs listeners brought with them, New York Magazine reports.
“The findings, themselves, were what we hypothesized,” Levitin says.
“But the anecdotes—the impressions our participants shared with us after the experiment—were fascinating. One said: ‘I know this is my favorite song but it doesn’t feel like it usually does.’ Another: ‘It sounds pretty, but it’s not doing anything for me.’”
The most obvious finding this study was that natural opioids increase a person’s pleasure when he or she is listening to music.
“This is the first demonstration that the brain’s own opioids are directly involved in musical pleasure,” Levitin says.
Researchers also posited that this “good feeling” is why music is part of every known culture. “The fact that music listening triggers a well-defined neurochemical response suggests an evolutionary origin for music,” the authors of the study state.
However, researchers also noted that music may have developed to exploit an already existing reward system, New York Magazine adds. This system could have evolved from other purposes, “such as recognizing and responding appropriately to various human and animal vocalizations.”
I suppose we don’t care why music makes us feel good when we hear it. We’re just happy our favorite tunes bring us joy.
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