Brain Opioids Turned On by Music
New research discovers the same brain-chemical system that facilitates feelings of pleasure from sex, recreational drugs, and the food is also critical to experiencing musical pleasure.
In the new study, published in the Nature journal Scientific Reports, researchers selectively and temporarily blocked opioids in the brain using naltrexone, a widely prescribed drug for treating addiction disorders.
The researchers then measured participants’ responses to music and found that even the participants’ favorite songs no longer elicited feelings of pleasure.
“The findings, themselves, were what we hypothesized,” Levitin says. “But the anecdotes, the impressions our participants shared with us after the experiment, were fascinating. One said: ‘I know this is my favorite song but it doesn’t feel like it usually does.’ Another: ‘It sounds pretty, but it’s not doing anything for me.’”
Still, this study proved to be “the most involved, difficult and Sisyphean task our lab has undertaken in 20 years of research,” Levitin says.
Music’s universality and its ability to deeply affect emotions suggest an evolutionary origin, and the new findings “add to the growing body of evidence for the evolutionary biological substrates of music,” the researchers write.