According to the Associated Press, McGill University researchers have discovered that listening to music triggers the same pleasure-reward system in the brain as sex, food and drugs. Previous research has shown that dopamine, a chemical that makes people feel pleasure, helps us feel pleasure while eating and having sex.
The research team has provided the first evidence that dopamine is responsible for musical bliss.
Neuroscientist Robert Zatorre, who led the research team at the Montreal Neurological Institute, said the findings helped explain why music was important throughout history and across cultures.
"Music has such deep roots in the brain that it engages this biologically ancient system," says Zatorre, explaining how dopamine generates the sensation of pleasure in the striatum, a primitive region deep in the brain.
"For reasons that we don't entirely understand, somehow music was able to kick in with the same system," Zatorre says. "And that gives it power that it might not otherwise have."
Illicit drugs hijack the dopamine system, which is what makes the drugs so addictive. But Zatorre sees little danger in listening to too much music.
Zatorre stated in an interview with the Montreal Gazette, "If you are hooked on music, it won't cause you to waste away, it won't give you health problems. On the contrary, it probably enhances your health."
Only instrumental music was used in the study, which shows that the dopamine response doesn't depend on voices, said researcher Valorie Salimpoor. She added that further work is needed to find out how voices might contribute to the feeling of pleasure when listening to music, msnbc.com reported.
The study used people who get the chills, a sign of intense nervous-system arousal, when listening to music. Of the more than 200 individuals who volunteered, 10 people were eventually selected to undergo the brain scans that cost a few thousand dollars each.
The volunteers agreed to undergo brain scans while listening to music they selected. The music ranged from techno to folk to classical. Brain scans revealed where and when their brains released dopamine as they listened to music.