Love that Symphony? Your Brain Does Too

Monday, January 10, 2011

Can’t get enough of a Chopin nocturne or that stirring Brahms concerto? New research suggests the music you love doesn’t just sound good, it can actually provoke natural chemical reactions in the brain associated with pleasure and positive feeling.

A recent study carried out by a team of scientists led by Valorie Salimpoor of McGill University in Montreal, Canada, and published in Nature Neuroscience, shows a direct correlation between listening to favorite music and increased dopamine in the brain, comparable to levels people experience when consuming favorite foods or, in more extreme cases, cocaine.

“The part of the brain that we found that releases dopamine is tightly connected to the frontal cortex,” said Salimpoor. “This is significant because this is the part that is more developed in humans, that separates us from other animals and that houses complex thinking.”

It’s probably no surprise to learn that music can provoke such strongly positive reactions among listeners. But when it comes to measuring pleasure, Salimpoor and team assert, “the role of dopamine has never been directly tested.”

“Now that we have evidence that dopamine, as the main chemical in reward and reinforcement, can be enhanced so easily by something like music, it could have implications later on for how to feel good naturally,” Salimpoor said.

Many of the study’s 200 participants brought in classical pieces to listen to while being analyzed.

“One piece of music kept coming up for different people was Barber's Adagio for Strings,” Salimpoor said. The second most popular piece in the group? Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, second movement.

“It's an intellectual reward because it’s your cognitive interpretation,” said Salimpoor. “The more complicated the piece, the more it becomes rewarding for you.”

But the findings of the study are not all cut and dry. “Pleasure is a subjective phenomenon that is difficult to assess objectively,” Salimpoor’s report states.


Weigh in: Do you find listening to music gives the same amount of pleasure as eating (or other activities)? Leave a comment below.


More in:

Comments [2]

Kenneth Bennett Lane from BOONTON, NJ

It is a known fact that pianists, singers, composers and conductors and runners have dopamine naturally developed by their activity. The actual chemical and physical configuration of the brains of those active over long periods of time confirm that one's lifestyle DOES MATERIALLY ADVANCE THE SIZE AND POTENTIAL OF THE INDIVIDUAL'S BRAIN.

Bach's , Mozart's and Wagner's music have scientifically been proven to heighten one's sense of balance and rational behavior. Such is NOT the case with ROCK music, particularly so when it is highly amplified.

It helps one to comprehend the talent necessary to perform opera and lieder singing if one has had a career singing opera and concertized with Lieder as the principal ingredient of the solo concert, nowadays not that prevalent.

Opera's unquestioned Golden Age of Wagner Performance was the Melchior, Flagstad, Schorr, Kipnis and Branzell "team."

Apr. 19 2011 12:52 AM
Jean Nibbelink Cioffi from Washington, D.C.

As a practicing performer, why didn't you ask me about this?! I could have told you it was so without all the research!

Jan. 13 2011 07:24 PM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

The WQXR e-newsletter. Show highlights, links to music news, on-demand concerts, events from The Greene Space and more.

Follow WQXR