How Music Stirs Your Brain to Anticipate Pleasure

Screen shot 2013-06-10 at 9.56.11 AMThis interesting New York Times article by Robert Zatorre, neuroscientist at McGill University, and a colleague, Valorie Salimpoor, examines how and why our brain functioning resonates with music that stirs us in different ways. He writes, “…we found that listening to what might be called ‘peak emotional moments’ in music — that moment when you feel a “chill” of pleasure to a musical passage — causes the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine, an essential signaling molecule in the brain. When pleasurable music is heard, dopamine is released in the striatum — an ancient part of the brain found in other vertebrates as well — which is known to respond to naturally rewarding stimuli like food and sex and which is artificially targeted by drugs like cocaine and amphetamine. But what may be most interesting here is when this neurotransmitter is released: not only when the music rises to a peak emotional moment, but also several seconds before, during what we might call the anticipation phase.” And, “So each act of listening to music may be thought of as both recapitulating the past and predicting the future. When we listen to music, these brain networks actively create expectations based on our stored knowledge.” For the full article, click here.