09 February 2017

Sex, drugs and Rock & Roll all trigger the same brain chemicals

Music can make you happy because it spurs the same chemical system in the brain involved in other pleasures like sex, a new study finds.


If you've ever turned on your favorite song to boost your mood when you're feeling down, the results of a new, small study probably won't surprise you.

The research found that the pleasure you feel when you listen to music is triggered by the same brain chemical system that provides the good feelings associated with sex, recreational drugs and food. The part of the brain that controls the release of dopamine is called the nucleus accumbens.  

Musical pleasure

The study is the first to show that the brain's "opioid system" is directly involved in musical pleasure, according to the researchers at McGill University in Montreal.

The researchers used a drug (naltrexone) to block this brain chemical system in 17 college students who volunteered for the study. Then they had the students listen to music. While on the drug, even the study volunteers' favorite songs no longer caused feelings of pleasure, the study authors reported.

"The findings, themselves, were what we hypothesised," study senior author Daniel Levitin, a cognitive psychologist, said in a university news release.

Evolutionary origin

"But the anecdotes – the impressions our participants shared with us after the experiment – were fascinating. One said: 'I know this is my favorite song but it doesn't feel like it usually does.' Another: 'It sounds pretty, but it's not doing anything for me.'"

The findings add to growing evidence that music's ability to significantly affect emotions has an evolutionary origin, according to the researchers.

The study was published in the journal Scientific Reports.

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