Why does music bring us pleasure? Well, the simple answer is that it changes our brain chemistry… literally. Music triggers the parts of our brain associated with reward, motivation, and emotion, which causes the feelings of pleasure that we get when we put our headphones on.
So even though we can’t necessarily pinpoint exactly what it is about music that excites us, we know it happens. We are lucky enough to have the opportunities to see our favorite groups and listen to them at home, at work, or on-the-go. For the longest time, music has been an important part of everyday life, and defines decades and generations.
And yet, all along, our brains are behind it all.
Robert J. Zatorre, Professor of Neuroscience at McGill University, and Valorie N. Salimpoor, a Postdoctoral Neuroscientist at Rotman Research Institute, have been researching the relationship between our brains and music. If you’ve ever felt a rush hearing the climax of a song or the sudden shift in cadence in another, you aren’t alone. The neurotransmitter dopamine is released, which usually occurs in response to positive stimuli like food or sex. According to neuroscientists, however, dopamine is released right before that favorite part too. In a study of brain function and music, scientists found that the more neural activity and dopamine released, the more money the listener was willing to spend to purchase said music.
But the relationship between our brains and music doesn’t stop there. The auditory cortex actually allows us to recall music and experience it again, even if it’s not playing. For musicians, the auditory cortex just might be the most important part. The ability to create music and re-arrange music in our heads starts there as well. We can even pick out wrong notes and incorrect changes in sound.
All of this brain function leads to music being an important part of our lives. Whether you’re listening to your favorite record at home or watching a live show, music undoubtedly changes the way we feel. So next time you hear a song and feel a sudden pulse, remember that your brain is feeling it too.
And it will make you want to listen more.