Music Gets The Dopamine Flowing

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Have you ever heard music so good that it gave you goosebumps? Those chills aren't just visible on your skin-recent research has snapped images of it in the brain, as well. In 2011, researchers at McGill University played music that their subjects chose for their chill-inducing qualities, then used PET and fMRI scans to take snapshots of their brains as they listened. The subjects' brains lined up perfectly with what happened in the music: as each song built toward a climax, dopamine activity increased in the caudate nucleus, which is associated with motivation. Once the music reached that climax, many of the subjects got chills, and there was more activity in the brain's reward center: the nucleus accumbens. If musical buildup is waking up to the smell of coffee, a musical climax is taking that first sip.

Key Facts In This Video

  1. Steven Pinker calls music "auditory cheesecake." We didn't evolve to love cheesecake specifically; we evolved to love anything sweet or high-calorie, so cheesecake is a side-effect of our evolution. Music, likewise, is a side effect of our need for language and a sense of our surroundings. 00:46

  2. A study by neuroscientist Talia Wheeley found that we may read emotion in music the same way we read emotion in human movement. 02:20

  3. Just as we can sense emotion by watching someone walk or dance, we can identify when a song is happy or sad. Music seems to move us because we move. 04:01

Written by Curiosity Staff May 5, 2016

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