Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Layer 418 . . . Music, Pleasure, Dopamine, Neuroscience, Health, Wellbeing, Frissons, Chills, Satori and Other Wonders of the Human Brain

Why blog about music? Why do so many people consider music to be an important, even a crucial part of their lives? Why do so many people have no time, no need, and no regard for music? Are these people soulless, or just made differently? Different to what?

Looking back, I can remember my first record player, my first LPs, my first 45s, my first live music bop at the local youth club, my first pub gigs, my first discos (dancing to Tamla Motown, Stax and Atlantic), my first live encounters with bands who'd had hit records, my first college gigs, my first festivals, and so on. Not only do I remember these things, I have intense memories of the pleasure these things gave me. Even now I can listen to early Dylan, Stones, Beatles, Fleetwood Mac, Pink Floyd, etc, with the same pleasure as I listened with way back then.

I can remember nights in Africa, camped under the stars of a pitch-black night, listening to music. I can remember driving for endless miles through bush and rain forest with the volume on the hi-fi cranked right up to maximum for favourite tunes.

These days it's still a huge pleasure to wander through Spotify, finding new music, new bands, new solo artists.

This week we hear news of research which shows a chemical link between music and wellbeing:

Music 'releases mood-enhancing chemical in the brain'
By Sonya McGilchrist Health reporter, BBC News


Music releases a chemical in the brain that has a key role in setting good moods, a study has suggested.

The study, reported in Nature Neuroscience, found that the chemical was released at moments of peak enjoyment.

Researchers from McGill University in Montreal said it was the first time that the chemical - called dopamine - had been tested in response to music.

Dopamine increases in response to other stimuli such as food and money.

It is known to produce a feel-good state in response to certain tangible stimulants - from eating sweets to taking cocaine.

Dopamine is also associated with less tangible stimuli - such as being in love.

In this study, levels of dopamine were found to be up to 9% higher when volunteers were listening to music they enjoyed.

The report authors say it's significant in proving that humans obtain pleasure from music - an abstract reward - that is comparable with the pleasure obtained from more basic biological stimuli.

Music psychologist, Dr Vicky Williamson from Goldsmiths College, University of London welcomed the paper. She said the research didn't answer why music was so important to humans - but proved that it was.

"This paper shows that music is inextricably linked with our deepest reward systems."

Musical 'frisson'
The study involved scanning the brains of eight volunteers over three sessions, using two different types of scan.

The relatively small sample had been narrowed down from an initial group of 217 people.

This was because the participants had to experience "chills" consistently, to the same piece of music, without diminishing on multiple listening or in different environments.

A type of nuclear medicine imaging called a PET scan was used for two sessions. For one session, volunteers listened to music that they highly enjoyed and during the other, they listened to music that they were neutral about.

In the third session the music alternated between enjoyed and neutral, while a functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI scan was made.

Data gathered from the two different types of scans was then analysed and researchers were able to estimate dopamine release.

Dopamine transmission was higher when the participants were listening to music they enjoyed.

Consistent chills
A key element of the study was to measure the release of dopamine, when the participants were feeling their highest emotional response to the music.

To achieve this, researchers marked when participants felt a shiver down the spine of the sort that many people feel in response to a favourite piece of music.

This "chill" or "musical frisson" pinpointed when the volunteers were feeling maxim pleasure.

The scans showed increased endogenous dopamine transmission when the participants felt a "chill". Conversely, when they were listening to music which did not produce a "chill", less dopamine was released.

What is dopamine?
Dopamine is a common neurotransmitter in the brain. It is released in response to rewarding human activity and is linked to reinforcement and motivation - these include activities that are biologically significant such as eating and sex.

Dr Robert Zatorre said: "We needed to be sure that we could find people who experienced chills very consistently and reliably.

"That is because once we put them in the scanner, if they did not get chills then we would have nothing to measure.

"The other factor that was important is that we wanted to eliminate any potential confound from verbal associations, so we used only instrumental music.

"This also eliminated many of the original sample of people because the music they brought in that gave them chills had lyrics."


From the Montreal Gazette:

Music triggers the same pleasure-reward system in the brain as food, sex and illicit drugs, according to McGill University researchers who have been peering into minds of music lovers.

They've discovered the feel-good neurotransmitter dopamine is released when people listen to their favourite music, be it rock, jazz or classical.

The finding by the team at McGill, reported yesterday in the journal Nature Neuroscience, helps explain why music is so pleasurable and popular.

It also hints at why music has been so valued and important throughout human history and across cultures, says neuroscientist Robert Zatorre, who leads the McGill team at the Montreal Neurological Institute.

"Music has such deep roots in the brain that it engages this biologically ancient system," says Zatorre, explaining how dopamine generates the sensation of pleasure in the striatum, a primitive region deep in the brain.

It's long been known dopamine is produced and generates pleasure when we eat or have sex, reinforcing activities that are key to survival. The Montreal study provides the first evidence that dopamine is also responsible for musical highs.

"For reasons that we don't entirely understand, somehow music was able to kick in with the same system," Zatorre says. "And that gives it power that it might not otherwise have."

While music may not be key to survival, he says it has been "very" useful.

"Because it gives us pleasure, we can use it to our advantage to modulate our state of mind."

Heroin and cocaine hijack the dopamine system, which is what makes the illicit drugs so addictive. But Zatorre sees little danger in listening to too much music.

"If you are hooked on music, it won't cause you to waste away, it won't give you health problems," he says. "On the contrary, it probably enhances your health."

For the study, he and his colleagues put out a call for people who get the chills, a sign of intense nervous-system arousal, when listening to music. Of the more than 200 individuals who volunteered, 10 people were eventually selected to undergo the brain scans that cost a few thousand dollars each.

One key stipulation was that the volunteers' favourite music not have lyrics. "We wanted to be sure the response was due to the music, not the words that accompanied it," Zatorre says.

The volunteers agreed to undergo brain scans while listening to tunes they picked, which ranged from techno to folk to classical.

Two types of brain scans were done as the volunteers blissed out to music inside the medical machines. Positron emission tomography (PET) revealed if and where dopamine was being released. For these scans, the volunteers were injected with a short-lived and harmless radioactive molecule, carbon-11, that latched onto any dopamine produced and showed up on the PET scans.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), which detects how much oxygen brain cells are using, revealed which areas of the brain were stimulated as the pleasure associated with the music kicked in. "It tells us where the brain is active and it tells us, within a range of a couple of seconds or so, when it is active," Zatorre says.

As the volunteers listened to music that "really turned them on," the sensors and scanners picked up clear signs of pleasure. Chills ran up their spines and their heart rates climbed as dopamine was released deep inside the brain. The volunteers also underwent scans listening to music they are indifferent to, which produced no pleasure effect.

The music that generated dopamine release depended on the listeners' tastes and preferences.

"All types of music activated the same part of the brain," Zatorre says. "It doesn't matter if it's punk, classical, tango or even bagpipes."

While the study volunteers experienced the chills when most roused by music, he says the scans revealed dopamine was also released even when the pleasure was not as intense.

The scans also showed that dopamine is released in advance of key sections and sequences in music, enhancing and prolonging the pleasure, which Zatorre considers one of the most interesting findings: "Ten to 20 seconds prior to the maximum pleasure, there was a different dopamine response in a slightly different place in the brain."

He says this "anticipation response" helps explain why musicians often build tension and pauses into their pieces. "They have a kind of intuitive understanding of the neuro-mechanisms behind pleasure," Zatorre says.

He says understanding the biochemical orchestra at work in the "magic of music" makes him appreciate it even more.

Read more: http://www.montrealgazette.com/health/Music+produces+natural+high+McGill+study+finds/4084087/story.html#ixzz1Aiyq00X7


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