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Music Listening, Emotion and Reward Systems

brain_musicMusic is an important part of most people’s lives. Recently, many studies are focused on music and especially its relationship with emotion and the reward system. Here are a few interesting ones:

1.Salimpoor et al (2009), found that the rewarding aspects of music listening are related to the degree of emotional arousal. Here’s the abstract from their interesting study:

Background: Listening to music is amongst the most rewarding experiences for humans. Music has no functional
resemblance to other rewarding stimuli, and has no demonstrated biological value, yet individuals continue listening to
music for pleasure. It has been suggested that the pleasurable aspects of music listening are related to a change in
emotional arousal, although this link has not been directly investigated. In this study, using methods of high temporal
sensitivity we investigated whether there is a systematic relationship between dynamic increases in pleasure states and
physiological indicators of emotional arousal, including changes in heart rate, respiration, electrodermal activity, body
temperature, and blood volume pulse.

Methodology: Twenty-six participants listened to self-selected intensely pleasurable music and ‘‘neutral’’ music that was
individually selected for them based on low pleasure ratings they provided on other participants’ music. The ‘‘chills’’
phenomenon was used to index intensely pleasurable responses to music. During music listening, continuous real-time
recordings of subjective pleasure states and simultaneous recordings of sympathetic nervous system activity, an objective
measure of emotional arousal, were obtained.

Principal Findings: Results revealed a strong positive correlation between ratings of pleasure and emotional arousal.
Importantly, a dissociation was revealed as individuals who did not experience pleasure also showed no significant increases
in emotional arousal.

Conclusions/Significance: These results have broader implications by demonstrating that strongly felt emotions could be
rewarding in themselves in the absence of a physically tangible reward or a specific functional goal.”

2. Activation in brain regions implicated in reward and emotion was also found in an earlier study by Blood & Zatorre (2001). Using PET they found cerebral blood flow increases and decreases in brain regions that are thought to be involved in reward/motivation, emotion, and arousal such as the ventral striatum, midbrain, amygdala, orbitofrontal cortex, and ventral medial prefrontal cortex. These structures are known from previous studies to be active in response to other euphoria-inducing stimuli, such as food, sex, and drugs of abuse.

3. Menon & Levitin (2005) also found that:

“listening to music strongly modulates activity in a network of mesolimbic structures involved in reward processing including the nucleus accumbens (NAc) and the ventral tegmental area (VTA), as well as the hypothalamus and insula, which are thought to be involved in regulating autonomic and physiological responses to rewarding and emotional stimuli.”

4. For more information on the neural correlates of music perception, you can read the reviews by Limb (2006) and Koelsch (2006).

(picture: part of Guilherme Marconi’s collection – My Schizophrenic Brain)

  1. 19/11/2009 at 18:12

    nice post. thanks.

  2. Ms. Lawrette
    04/09/2010 at 15:48

    It is an amazing thing how brain works, how it responds to many of stimuli in our environment, how we recogize and appreciate thing through our well-organized organism!!!!!

  3. 23/11/2011 at 12:08

    Interesting! I’ve just met with a friend of Salimpoor’s yesterday at Goldsmiths Music, Mind and Brain programme and she recommended this paper to me. And to randomly stumble on your blog today via Twitter…what a delightfully small world it is!

  1. 31/10/2009 at 14:02
  2. 08/02/2010 at 12:57

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