Dopamine and reward responses to music causally linked

New research sheds light on the neurobiology and neurochemistry underpinning reward responses to music.
Published: 28 January 2019

A new study published in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, reveals a causal link between the neurotransmitter dopamine and the reward responses to music. The study was conducted by an international team including researchers from the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital of McGill University, the University of Barcelona, and the Hospital de Sant Pau of Barcelona.

The experiment pharmacologically manipulated the dopaminergic transmission of in 27 healthy individuals while they listened to music, and showed for the first time a causal link between dopamine and musical pleasure and motivation. While the dopamine precursor levodopa increased hedonic experience and motivational responses, such as willingness to purchase a song, the dopamine antagonist risperidone led to a reduction of both measures. Prior studies from the Montreal group had already shown that dopamine is released during pleasurable music, and that brain stimulation to reward-related areas of the brain could change music evaluation. The missing link was to show specifically that modulation of dopamine could have a direct influence on people’s experience of pleasure from music.

These results shed new light on the neurobiology and neurochemistry underpinning reward responses to music, which has both theoretical implications for models of reward-system function, as well as potential for application of music to disorders of reward and motivation.

The full study text is available here:

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