Music can be your aeroplane, study says

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Those who experience euphoria when listening to their favourite music could be achieving the same pleasure as that which comes from good food, sex, or drugs, a McGill study has found.

In a first in the field, neuroscience researchers at McGill have discovered a connection between the neurotransmitter dopamine, a chemical known for its rewarding “feel-good” effects, and its musically triggered release. The team, led by neuroscientist Robert Zatorre, found that music is physiologically linked to providing rewards, highlighting the importance of music to individual well-being.

Dopamine release has previously been linked with activities one finds pleasurable or rewarding. Drugs like cocaine are addictive due to their manipulation of the dopamine release system, but music can provide a similar high with none of the destructive health effects. Music was found to elevate dopamine release up to nine per cent, which is slightly higher than the effects of food.

Valorie Salimpoor, the lead investigator for the study at the Montreal Neurological Institute, said music is a “cognitive reward that we can have access to at any time,” and  one that “works on the same regions associated with other addictive substances.”

“Music makes people happy, and this feeling has been linked to other feelings of intense euphoria, like cocaine,” Salimpoor said. Adding that behaviours that are around for this long usually are biologically adaptive, necessary for survival, or evolutionarily significant.

While music may not be essential to survival as a species, it’s a “cognitive and intellectual reward,” Salimpoor said.

“It seems as if our thinking centres are tapping into these reward centres,” she added. “It is just the way you perceive it that makes it pleasurable.”

Is music addictive? Salimpoor doesn’t have a definitive answer, but said, “If it feels good … if dopamine is released, the brain tells you to ‘make sure it happens again.'”