Posted on Feb 27, 2017, 6 a.m.
Study reveals that music stimulates the same part of the brain that sex and drugs do.
Researchers from McGill University have found that opioids within the brain play a role in the experience of musical pleasure. The group's findings were recently published in the journal Nature. The brain chemical system responsible for allowing joy to be experienced from music is also responsible for feelings of pleasure resulting from food, sex and recreational drugs.
Details About the Study
The senior author of the study's paper, Daniel Levitin, states that his group's findings are the first proof that the brain's natural opioids are responsible for musical pleasure. Levitin's lab and other researchers previously used neuroimaging to map out the portions of the brain that are active when musical pleasure occurs. However, these studies merely allowed researchers to infer that the brain's opioid system was involved.
About the Findings
Levitin's McGill University research team blocked opioids in a temporary and highly selective manner with the use of naltrexone. This is a commonly prescribed drug provided to those afflicted with addiction disorders. The research group measured study participants' responses when music was played. They found that participants' favorite music did not induce feelings of pleasure after the opioids were blocked. Levitin states that the findings were exactly what his team originally hypothesized.
Patient anecdotes were quite intriguing. Many reported that their favorite songs did not feel like they usually do when opioids were blocked. Another participant reported that his favorite song sounded nice but did not “do anything” for him.
It is interesting to note that Levitin was concerned about the safety of the study's participants. His group gave prescription drugs to the participants, a group comprised of 20 college students. These participants did not need the drugs for any sort of health reason but were willing to take them for the study's purposes. Each participant was given a blood test before the study to ensure that his condition was not worsened by the drug. Thankfully, none of the patients experienced adverse results from the medication.
"Anhedonia to music and mu-opioids: Evidence from the administration of naltrexone," Adiel Mallik, Mona Lisa Chanda & Daniel J. Levitin. Scientific Reports, published online Feb. 8, 2017. DOI: 10.1038/srep41952