New study reveals the science behind why we enjoy music

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  • As humans, we find it rewarding to listen to music
  • A new study reveals why we get pleasure from listening to music
  • Findings suggest that music triggers the reward circuits in the brain

Music has a unique ability to bring feelings of enjoyment and pleasure to humans, and it can often turn a foul mood around. 

But why does music have this effect on us? A group of neuroscientist say it’s all thanks to the link between our brain and auditory circuits.

Music and biological rewards

Existing research suggests that there are similarities in the way the brain processes rewards like food and money and the way it processes music. Researchers at Montreal Neurological institute conducted the present study with the aim of uncovering the causal role of this circuitry by using brain stimulation.

The study involved a group of 17 male and female participants who were pop music fans. The group listened to a set number of pop songs while their brain activity was observed through fMRI scans.

Before listening to the music and being scanned, the researchers excited or inhibited each participant’s brain reward circuit This was done by using transcranial magnetic stimulation, which is a non-invasive method that stimulates nerve cells in the brain with magnetic fields. 

Exciting reward circuits in the brain

Like in previous studies, the team found that exciting the brain’s reward circuit led to participants experiencing increased feelings of pleasure and motivation while listening to the music. On the other hand, inhibiting the reward circuit led to a reduction in pleasure experienced while listening to the songs. 

The induced changes in pleasure were ultimately associated with a change in activity in an area primary to mediating reward behaviour, known as the nucleus accumbens.

Results of the study suggest that a unique relationship exists between auditory and reward regions in the brain, which causes us to experience pleasure when listening to music. 

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