Music addiction: It’s a thing?
That’s right. You sir or madame, may well be a music addict. When your favourite tune plays, your body will undergo many extremely enjoyable changes. Your heart rate increases, pupils dilate, body temperature rises and your brain floods with dopamine.
No denying it, this is definitely the coolest addiction ever. But how (and why) does music do this to us?
The short answer: Dopamine
The answer lies in a (metaphorically) delectable neurotransmitter called dopamine. Neurotransmitters are the chemical messages sent between neurones in your brain. Different neurotransmitters elicit different effects. The release of dopamine in particular is associated with pleasure and addiction.
“Eat ALL the chips!”
Dopamine has a pretty important evolutionary role for survival. For instance, when you eat fantastic food, drink water, experience social acceptance, or get down with a special someone *wink*, dopamine is released, which makes you feel awesome. It’s basically bribing your body to do these things more often so that you can get a rush of pleasure (and by extension, survive (hopefully)).
‘But you don’t need music to survive!’ I hear you say. Technically, you are correct. However, my dopamine reward system greatly disagrees (for reasons the scientific community still aren’t quite sure of).
“Oh music, I just cant quit you!”
Dopamine, Y U love music??
A valiant question sub-heading! Why does an abstract, not-necessary-for-survival string of audible tones create such a rush? This is a pretty grey area in science, yet it still appears that despite not actually adaptively helping you to survive, music acts as a reward.
A study by Valerie Salimpoor suggests that it’s to do with the enhancement of emotions. Emotions induced by music are typically evoked by tension, resolution, expectations, delay, prediction, anticipation and surprise.
“And IIIIIIIEEEIIIIEEEEEIIIIII….. will always……………………LOVE YOU!!”
These are manipulated by music-makers all the time. My favourite example being when Daft Punk remixed One More Time for their Alive tour. They extended the instrumentals, tricking the whole crowd, who diligently started singing at the time they were used to.
Salimpoor found that before the emotional peak induced by music, there was relatively greater dopamine activity. This indicates that either via your prior knowledge of your (super fantastic) favourite song, or of an understanding of musical structure, you anticipate each note, and each favourite climax of the piece, as well as anticipating either the confirmation or breach of your expectations. And so, you learn to anticipate more, because in this way it can be even better than the abstract tonal (but still dopamine saturated) reward.
Despite music appreciation not being adaptively helpful (except maybe for surviving awkward social gatherings), the ability to predict what’s coming next is especially evolutionarily handy for survival. Back in the day, if you didn’t anticipate dangers either physical or social, it was likely you would end up… well… worse for wear to say the least.
So… turns out the importance of music in our society is just a by-product of our brain encouraging us to predict stuff. Well, all I can say is thank all the itty-bitty cells in the world for happy by-products
So! What are your current dopamine-saturated music obsessions?
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