Canadian scientists use MRI scans to analyse the brain when listening to unheard songs

A new study has discovered that listening to new music is good for the brain.

A team of Canadian scientists have used MRI scans to establish that areas of the reward centre of the brain become active when people hear a new song for the first time. A report published in the Science journal explains that these connections in the nucleus accumbens area of the brain become stronger when a listener enjoys what they are listening to.

The study took place at the Montreal Neurological Institute at McGill University with scientists playing 19 volunteers 60 pieces of new music. The participants were lying on an MRI machine and had the opportunity to “buy” the songs they liked from a mock-up online music shop.

Speaking to the BBC’s Science in Action programme, Dr Valorie Salimpoor said: “We know that the nucleus accumbens is involved with reward. But music is abstract: It’s not like you are really hungry and you are about to get a piece of food and you are really excited about it because you are going to eat it – or the same thing applies to sex or money – that’s when you would normally see activity in the nucleus accumbens. But what’s cool is that you’re anticipating and getting excited over something entirely abstract – and that’s the next sound that is coming up.”

The researchers are now hoping to use their findings to discover what drives an individuals music taste and whether the reason why different people like different types of music can be explained.