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Scientists Link Music to Food, Drugs, Sex

Ever felt shivers of pleasure run through your body after listening to a particularly scintillating solo or intoxicating rhythm? Ever wonder how that intense enjoyment gets expressed in the body? Well, the precise way in which the music you hear becomes physical pleasure is still a mystery, but two Canadian scientists have found the regions of the brain that start the shivers – and they’re the same regions that regulate the pleasure we take from food, drugs and sex. Not that you didn’t know that all along.

Anne J. Blood and Robert J. Zatorre, both working at McGill University in Montreal, reported these findings in the Sept. 25 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The scientists found volunteers with eight or more years of musical training, then asked them to listen to music they enjoyed while hooked up to a positron emission tomography scanner. When the volunteers reported feeling those elusive but ecstatic shivers running up and down their bodies, Blood and Zatorre used the images from the PET scanner to compare the level of activity in various regions of their brains with “control” images taken when no music was playing.

What they found was increased blood flow to the ventral striatum, midbrain, amygdala, orbitofrontal cortex, and ventral medial prefrontal cortex. (We mention this only so that when someone switches off your music in the middle of a particularly incandescent cut, you can avoid saying “Hey, man, you ruined my groove!” and substitute “Hey, man, you cut off the blood flow to my orbitofrontal cortex!” Solid.) As Blood and Zatorre put it, “These brain structures are known to be active in response to other euphoria-inducing stimuli, such as food, sex, and drugs of abuse.”

As fun as it is to know this, the information also has major implications for the biological role of music in our lives. Blood and Zatorre write that their findings are “quite remarkable, because music is neither strictly necessary for biological survival or reproduction, nor is it a pharmacological substance.” They continue, “The ability of music to induce such pleasure…suggest[s] that, although music may not be imperative for survival of the human species, it may indeed be of significant benefit to our mental and physical well-being.” We suggest grabbing a favorite CD and chilling with it right now.

Originally Published