Why Does the Brain Enjoy Music?

Despite having no obvious biological benefits, humans love music. The communication between hearing and reward circuits of the brain is the reason why people find the music rewarding, according to a research published in the Journal of Neuroscience.

The brain’s reward circuits process music and other rewards such as food, money, and alcohol. However, neuroimaging studies are correlative in nature.

In the new study, the researchers tried to determine the causal role of these circuits using non-invasive brain stimulation.

A group of pop music fans listened to a set of pop songs while the research team measured their brain activity with MRI. Before the scan, the team indirectly excited or inhibited the brain’s reward circuitry with transcranial magnetic stimulation.

A Gateway to Unimaginable Pleasure

Arousing the reward circuit before listening to the music increased the participants’ pleasure from listening to the songs, while inhibition decreased the pleasure. These changes in induced pleasure were related to changes in the activity of the nucleus accumbens, a key region of the reward circuitry.

Participants with the greatest difference in pleasure also showed the greatest difference in synchronized activity between the auditory and reward regions. These results indicate that interactions between the auditory and reward regions drive the pleasure we feel when listening to music.

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