The Neuroscience of Beatlemania
Scitable. February 06, 2014
Why do we like music?
One could easily argue that Beatles fanatics didn’t go to their shows to actually hear what was being played. Of course, record sales prove that, indeed, people enjoy Beatles tunes. What about music can make us tap our toes, lull babies to sleep, well up with emotion, dance in any style, or stir up furious mosh pits?
In short, music makes us feel good. In a 2001 study at McGill University, researchers Anne Blood and Robert Zatorre recruited ten individuals who had at least some formal music training. Each participant selected a song that, they claimed, consistently gave them chills. The researchers played a 90-second excerpt of their chosen song while the subject laid in a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine, a device that measures brain activity by detecting changes in blood flow.
Compared to control (neutral) sounds, music that elicits physical and emotional changes resulted in activation of limbic, paralimbic, and midbrain regions. These areas are implicated in pleasure and reward, not unlike the neural pathways that recognize yummy food, addictive drugs, …