Jan. 10, 2011 -- Listening to music may be pleasing to the ear as well as the body, according to a new study.
Researchers found that listening to music releases the neurotransmitter dopamine in the brain and sends pleasure signals to the rest of the body. And the more pleasing the music is to the ear, the more intensely pleasurable the experience is for the body.
Dopamine is a chemical involved in the brain's reward system and is usually associated with more tangible pleasures such as food, psychoactive drugs, and money.
"Our results provide, to the best of our knowledge, the first direct evidence that the intense pleasure experience when listening to music is associated with dopamine activity in the mesolimbic reward system," write researcher Valorie Salimpoor of Montreal Neurological Institute at McGill University in Quebec, Canada, and colleagues in Nature Neuroscience. "Our results help to explain why music is of such high value across all human societies."
Why Music Gives You Chills
In a set of experiments, researchers used brain scans to measure the release of dopamine while participants listened to pleasurable and neutral music.
The results showed that the dopamine release was greater when the participants listened to pleasurable music, such as music that gave them "chills" or prompted a change in heart rate or breathing, compared to when they listened to neutral music.
In addition, researchers found that even the anticipation of listening to intensely pleasurable music was enough to trigger the release of dopamine.
"These results further speak to why music can be effectively used in rituals, marketing, or film to manipulate hedonic states," write the researchers.