Music listening is known to lift peoples’ spirits and transcend all cultures and generations; it is one of the world’s greatest pleasures and mysteries known to humankind. Musicians and scientists alike have shown great interest in the feel-good effects of music, and the 21st century discovery of the music-dopamine link has been instrumental in understanding human behaviour. Dopamine is a neurochemical which is responsible for the increase in emotional arousal in the human brain; it is triggered when we connect actions with rewards such as getting candy for completing chores. Dopamine was previously thought to be related to human activities related to survival like eating, sleeping and reproducing; however, listening to music produces the release of the neurochemical (Moore, K.S., 2011. Your Musical Self - Why music listening makes us feel good: the chemical link between music and emotion, Psychology Today, http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/your-musical-self/201101/why-music-listening-makes-us-feel-good).
Researchers conducted a music-dopamine study at McGill University, of which 217 participants were initially chosen. 8 participants were in the final selection based on their consistent manner in responses to anticipation and emotional peaks when listening to pleasurable and neutral music for three sessions, regardless of their location. Participants were able to choose their own music. Research was done using both PET (positron emission tomography) and fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) scans while the 8 participants listened to music throughout the three sessions. The PET and fMRI scans showed the psychophysiological effects of dopamine on the brain and the regions in the brain which are activated when dopamine is released while listening to music respectively. A following questionnaire was completed by the participants stating rating their pleasure level in relationship to the music (Moore, 2011).
The PET scans measured the autonomic nervous system and hemodynamic activities of dopamine release in relation to peak emotional arousal during music listening (i.e. number and intensity of chills, heart rate, respiration, blood volume, etc.). The fMRI scans measured the psychophysiological effects of the neurochemical in relation to the anticipation of emotional peaks in music, as well as the parts of the striatum which are affected by the release of dopamine. For example, the caudate was found to be more activated when emotional peaks in music are anticipated, while putamen and the nucleus accumbens (NAcc) were more greatly affected when music reached its climax. The 8 participants responded to music through a mesolimbic reward system, in which they experienced pleasure at specific points in their music listening (Salimpoor, V.N., Benovoy, M., Larcher, K., Dagher, A. and Zatorre, R., 2011. Anatomically distinct dopamine release during anticipation and experience of peak emotion to music, Nature Neuroscience, Nature America Inc., Pgs. 1-5, http://www.brainvitge.org/papers/Salimpoor_2011.pdf).
One possible reason for humans to experience intense pleasure during music listening is that emotions are evoked during the anticipatory and emotional peaks of music (Salimpoor, K., Benovoy, M, Larcher, K., Dagher, A. and Zatorre, R, 2011, Pg. 6). Since each person attaches different emotions to nostalgic moments in their lives, they will behave differently when listening to music. Some people will cry when they are listening to Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings, and other people will smile and “be at peace” when they listen to the same piece. Some people will associate this music with a loved one’s death, and other people will associate it with happier moments in their lives (i.e. giving birth to a child). Music serves a purpose for humans to further understand their feelings and, ultimately, themselves.
I enjoyed reading both articles, as these findings made me more aware of why people have similar psychophysiological reactions to pre climax and climax points in a song/work while attaching different associations to the same piece. I was intrigued about the pleasure-pain phenomena in relation to reactions of the nervous system. For example, experiencing chills is an interesting psychophysiological reaction which can be perceived as being pleasurable or painful – depending on the circumstances. Chills which are felt as a result of being cold would be considered “painful” by most people, but the same chills experienced in music are pleasurable. Readers can argue that the changes noted in the autonomic nervous and hemodynamic systems were present in the 8 participants because they knew the form of their songs. My recommendation for the researchers is to conduct another music-dopamine study and have preselected music for the new participants to measure dopamine levels in the striatum. I would be interested to see if the participants respond to music through their dopamine levels in a similar manner, and if not, more research would have to done on the music-memory link.
Moore, K.S., 2011. Your Musical Self - Why music listening makes us feel good: the chemical link between music and emotion, Psychology Today, http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/your-musical-self/201101/why-music-listening-makes-us-feel-good
Salimpoor, V.N., Benovoy, M., Larcher, K., Dagher, A. and Zatorre, R., 2011. Anatomically distinct dopamine release during anticipation and experience of peak emotion to music, Nature Neuroscience, Nature America Inc., http://www.brainvitge.org/papers/Salimpoor_2011.pdf,