Canadian researchers at Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital have been unpacking the neurochemical dimension to the pleasure of listening to music. The findings of the research are thought to be the first of their kind, confirming that abstract pleasures such as music have the same rewarding effect on the mind and body as more tangible stimuli such as food and sex. According to Dr Robert Zatorre the study provides, "neurochemical evidence that intense emotional responses to music involve ancient reward circuitry in the brain".
Even the anticipation of listening to pleasurable music begins to stimulate dopamine activity and can be detected through PET and fMRI brain imaging techniques. In fact, changes in skin conductance, heart rate, breathing and temperature account quite literally for the "chill" factor experienced in response to music we enjoy - it really does send shivers down the spine.
The mechanisms involved in our emotional response to music are shown to be the very same networks that humans have developed to reinforce the behavior that is necessary for survival. Researchers also noted that the effect key aesthetic ideas in what makes music work, such as "tension and resolution", can be observed on the neurological level as a piece of music unfolds.
Instead of heading for the fridge for a bite of comfort food, perhaps we could indulge ourselves in a favourite piece of music and reap the same psychological rewards without the calorific burden.
Source: McGill University via Eurekalert.