Music, Dopamine and Happiness

Every time we listen to good music we experience the pleasurable feeling commonly referred to as musical chills. A study conducted by researchers from The Montreal Neurological Institute at McGill University reveals the link between listening to music and the release of dopamine in the brain. The study also suggests that the anticipation towards listening to good music also triggers the release of dopamine.

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter responsible for creating feelings of reward, pleasure and punishment. Composers of music often use techniques to arouse the emotions of their listeners. Co-author of the study Dr Robert Zatorre and his team observed the amount of dopamine released in reaction to music that evoked chills and made changes in the study participants’ breathing, heart rate and body temperature. Also known as musical frisson, musical chills are significant indications of strong emotional reaction to music. The researchers used a combination of fMRI and PET brain imaging techniques in order to map and observe the release of dopamine in the brain and compared it to the desirability and arousal ratings of the music being listened to. They found that highly pleasurable music resulted in a greater release of dopamine than neutral music.

Dr. Zatorre said that their findings provide further evidence of the role being played by dopamine in triggering high emotional responses. He added that their study is the first to demonstrate the link between an abstract reward like listening to music and the brain’s reward circuitry. Lead researcher Valerie Salimpoor said that music’s influence to the brain’s dopamine system can be measured from all phases and as it advances from neutral to peak.

Maintaining a balanced level of dopamine in the brain is important in reinforcing a positive behavior and in making a person feel sociable and happy. The study published in the Nature Science journal gives scientific evidence why listening to your favorite music can make you feel happy and revitalized after a hard day’s work.

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