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Official: music is a brain stimulating drug

I got chills, they're multiplying

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We all know our favourite tunes are pleasurable, but scientists have dug deep and discovered music can actually be a drug that stimulates the release of pleasure chemicals in our brain.

A study from scholars at McGill University in Canada suggests the anticipation of our favourite passage can be all the stimulation needed for releasing neurochemical dopamine.

To determine this, researchers studied the instances where music makes a listener's hairs stand up - moments known as "chills". These chills apparently involve a "clear and discrete pattern of autonomic nervous system arousal", the report says. Of course, some people are more susceptible to the effects than others.

Some 200-odd people responded to an advertisement that sought "chill-susceptible" music lovers and were asked to name ten tracks that make them tick. The genres included tango, techno, punk, rock, electronica, jazz, folk and classical.

The entrants took a questionnaire to see how authentic these chills were and then went through a screening test. This process narrowed the group down to ten individuals, who were subsequently scanned over two sessions.

Anatomically distinct dopamine release during anticipation and experience of peak emotion to music

Get your head around that
Source: Nature Neuroscience

Participants listened to music they decided was pleasurable or felt neutral about, recording the number and intensity of chills they experienced, while noting the degree of pleasure felt from each piece.

As all this happened, the boffins were watching their brains through an MRI scan.

The results showed dopamine release was restricted to moments before and during the chills.

The research proves that the pleasure we get from listening to music is closely linked with dopamine release and why it's so effectively deployed in rituals, marketing and film.

I suppose if the report is anything to go by, it's no wonder so many musicians go onto harder and stronger substances when the music no longer gives them a fix. Does that mean our downloads can be dangerously addictive? Perhaps we'd need another study to figure that one out. ®

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