Music affects the brain in a very similar way to sex and drugs, according to a new study.
Participants in the study at Canada’s McGill University were given naltrexone, a drug that prevents the brain’s pleasure-making opioid system from working properly. Because of its pleasure-blocking properties, this drug is often used to treat people who are addicted to heroin and alcohol.
The researchers found that when participants who had taken naltrexone listened to their favourite songs, they didn’t experience the same sense of pleasure they would normally expect to enjoy.
However, when participants on naltrexone were played songs they are not particularly fond of, they noticed no real difference in their response to the music.
“This is the first demonstration that the brain’s own opioids are directly involved in musical pleasure,” the study’s senior author, cognitive psychologist Daniel Levitin, said of the study’s results, which were published in the Scientific Reports Journal.
“The findings, themselves, were what we hypothesised,” Levitin added. “But the anecdotes – the impressions our participants shared with us after the experiment – were fascinating. One said: ‘I know this is my favourite song but it doesn’t feel like it usually does.’ Another: ‘It sounds pretty, but it’s not doing anything for me.’ “