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.


“Aww Yiss”

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.



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?

For more information, Check out these:


7 Responses to “Music addiction: It’s a thing?”

  1. Olivia Campbell says:

    oh thanks! now i’ve got some reading to do!

  2. Ruth de Jager says:

    I couldn’t find anything that directly addressed my hypothesis, nor anything that linked stress and extraversion on a neurological level, but found some interesting things none-the-less!

    Environmental Stress by Gary W. Evans and Sheldon Cohen ( has talked about stress as a homeostatic process. So, the stressor disrupts your equilibrium, and your body acts by becoming stressed. The Information Overload model says that either too much sensory stimuli (overload) or too little (sensory deprivation) can produce stress. So if you’re stressed out, and there’s music as well, it can tip your equilibrium even more over the edge.

    And it was Eysenck’s personality theory that theorised that extroverts are under-aroused and easily bored, hence why it takes more external stimuli to tip their equilibrium over the edge. There is some evidence for that especially in this – – fMRI study on personality and humour (quite a good read!).

    Also, I found this amazing web-page that gives you a few minutes of timeout. Check it out! Really soothing! It’s called The Quiet Place Project

  3. Olivia Campbell says:

    Oh wow, thats an intriguing hypothesis as I would very much consider myself an extrovert! I cant wait to see what you can find!

  4. ruthd1 says:

    @Olivia Campbell I feel you there, I even use music to coax me into doing things I dislike, it just makes everything better!

    That’s an interesting question, though. With a quick search, it says that quiet and solitude has wide reaching beneficial effects. It can help with creativity, focus, development of personality and (paradoxically) your social interactions! However, I couldn’t find anything directly related to your musings, but I shall share my hypothesis!

    There are some theories, as well as evidence, to suggest that introversion and extroversion have biological differences, and that Introverts (who shy away from external stimuli and typically are “drained” by such) have higher cortical arousal than extroverts (who are energised by external stimuli and actively seek it out). There’s also the theory that introverts have a more sensitive dopamine rewards system when compared to extroverts. In any case! My hypothesis is that when you’re stressed out, your brain becomes more like that of an introvert’s, wishing to get away from external stimuli because of the high cortical arousal and/or the over-sensitivity of the dopamine rewards system to rewards.

    Food for thought! I’ll have to try to do some more extensive research to see if anyone’s come up with the same question/answer.
    The two blogs I checked out:

  5. ruthd1 says:

    @ebyers wow! That’s really interesting. What’s the saying? Too much of a good thing… which I suppose is the essence of the dopamine rewards system going into overdrive since it’s all about encouraging and maintaining behaviour. I’m glad you brought up the truly difficult aspects of an addiction. Despite this being a light-hearted post, addiction can be a really difficult thing to deal with. I hope your friend found her balance!

  6. Olivia Campbell says:

    I definitely have felt a song I love drastically improve my mood and make me love life!

    However when I am really stressed I cant stand to listen to anything, I need silence. I wonder why this is when I’m such a big music lover the rest of the time? If listening to music releases dopamine surely it would be a good thing to do when I’m stressed? However I can find it a bit of an overload if there is a lot going on/

  7. ebyers says:

    Hey Ruth, this is a very interesting topic. To bring a more psychopathological side of the story in – I actually have a friend who had a diagnosed addiction to music, she was literally not sleeping because she would spend all night listening to music. She had to have her laptop and ipod locked up. It just shows that anything can go too far!