100 Things You Should Know About People: #74 — Listening To Music Releases Dopamine In The Brain


Woman listening to music on headphones

Have you ever been listening to a piece of music and experienced intense pleasure, even chills? Valorie Salimpoor and team (2010) conducted research that shows that listening to music can release the neurotransmitter dopamine.

A wide range of music — The researchers used PET (positron emission tomography) scans, fMRI, and psychophysiological measures such as heart rate to measure reactions while people listened to music. The participants provided music that they said gave them intense pleasure and chills. The range of music varied, from classical, folk, jazz, elecronica, rock pop, tango, and more.

Pleasure vs. anticipated pleasure — The researchers saw the same pattern of brain and body activity when people were listening to their music as they see when people feel euphoria and craving when they get a reward. The experience of pleasure corresponded with dopamine release in one part of the brain (striatal dopaminergic system). When people were anticipating a pleasurable part of the music (participants were listening to their favorite music, so they knew what part of the music was coming next), then there was a dopamine release in a different part of the brain (nucleus accumbens).

Somewhat related is the very interesting TED talk by Benjamin Zander on Music and Passion.

What do you think? Do you get “chills” listening to music? Do you think the anticipation is as good as, or better than the experience?

And if you like to read the research:

Salimpoor, Valorie, N., Benovoy, M., Larcher, K., Dagher, A., & Zatorre, R. (2011). Anatomically distinct dopamine release during anticipation and experience of peak emotion to music. Nature Neuroscience.



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8 Replies to “100 Things You Should Know About People: #74 — Listening To Music Releases Dopamine In The Brain”

  1. The book “This is Your Brain on Music” by Daniel J. Levitin goes into great detail to explain exactly what happens in your brain. The book is fascinating! One of my favorite stories is about how owls’ bones can be made to vibrate to ‘sing’ Strauss’s Blue Danube Waltz!

  2. I’m not really a music person, but my husband is. For him music is an experience and it has a strong affect on him. Maybe my dopamine is broken.

  3. So is this the reason they say that little children along with some classical music is a great combination? because of dopamine being released from such an early stage?


  4. i cant live without my music. i feel that every time i listen to several parts of it it makes my alive and opens my heart!

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  7. But in your article dopamine-makes-us-addicted-to-seeking-information, you say that dopamine isn’t about pleasure, it’s about seeking?

  8. Julie — Good point… The researchers talked about it as pleasure, and I should have adjusted that. It’s probably more about anticipation than pleasure. Anticipation and seeking are tied together.

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