Emotion and Music

Salimpoor, V., Benovoy, M., Larcher, K., Dagher, A., and Zatorre, R.J. (2011).  Anatomically Distinct Dopamine Release during Anticipation and Experience of Peak Emotion to Music.  Nature Neuroscience.

Music, an abstract stimulus, can arouse feelings of euphoria and craving, similar to tangible rewards that involve the striatal dopaminergic system. Using the neurochemical specificity of [11C]raclopride positron emission tomography (PET) scanning, combined with psychophysiological measures of autonomic nervous system activity, we provide direct evidence for endogenous dopamine release in the striatum at peak emotional arousal during music listening. To examine the timecourse of dopamine release we used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) with the same stimuli and listeners, and found a functional dissociation: the caudate is more involved during the anticipation, and the nucleus accumbens during the experience of peak emotional responses to music. These results provide clear evidence that intense pleasure in response to music can lead to dopamine release in the striatal system. Importantly, the anticipation of an abstract reward can result in dopamine release within an anatomical pathway distinct from that associated with the peak pleasure itself. These findings help to explain why music is of such high value across all human societies.

Stimuli (* most popular selections)

Composer/Artist

Title

Genre

Barber **
Beethoven **
Beethoven
Berlioz
Buxtehude
Chopin
Copland
Debussy **
Digitalism
Alizadeh
Dvorak
Rachmaninoff
Rachmaninoff
Shostakovich
Tchaikovsky
Vivaldi
Wagner
Lamb
Yann Tiersen
Wendy Carlos
Ennio Morricone
Hans Zimmer
Grainger
The Assembly
Rodrigo Y Gabriela
Rodrigo y Gabriela
Explosions in the Sky **
Joe Pass
Godspeed You! Black Emperor
Transiberian Orchestra
Infected Mushroom
Infected Mushroom
Infected Mushroom
Infected Mushroom
Led Zeppelin
Piazzolla
Rodriguez
Tiesto **
Tiesto
Tiesto
Adagio for Strings
9th Symphony - Mov. 2
Piano Sonata No. 17 in D Minor ("The Tempest")
Symphonie Fantastique, Op. 14 - Mov. 4
Toccata in G
Mazurka in A Minor Op. 17
Appalachian Spring Suite
Clair de Lune
Echoes
Nahoft and Faroud
New World Symphony
Morceaux de Fantaisie, No. 2, Prelude in C# Minor
Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini
11th Symphony - Mov. 2
Swan Lake
Four Seasons - Spring
Lohengrin Prelude to act 1
Angelica
Le Moulin
Symphony No. 9 - Mov. 2
L'Arena
Hummel gets the Rockets
Rutherford Park Poachers
Cheris / Fading Light
Diablo Rojo
Tamacun
First Breath After Coma
Misty
Storm
Nutcracker Suite
Suliman
Heavyweight
Special place
Vicious Delicious
Moby Dick
Libertango
La Cumparsita
Adagio for Strings
Nyana
Olympic Flame
Classical
Classical
Classical
Classical
Classical
Classical
Classical
Classical
Electronic
World
Classical
Classical
Classical
Classical
Classical
Classical
Classical
Electronic
Film Score (Amelie Poulin)
Film Score (Clockwork Orange)
Film Score (Kill Bill)
Film Score (The Rock)
Folk
Folk
Guitar - Flamenco
Guitar - Flamenco
Instrumental Post-Rock
Jazz/Blues
Post-Rock
Progressive Rock
Psychedelic Rock
Psychedelic Rock
Psychedelic Trance
Psychedelic Trance
Rock
Tango
Tango
Trance
Trance
Trance



Salimpoor, V., Benovoy, M., Longo, G., Cooperstock, J.R., and Zatorre, R.J. (2009).  The Rewarding Aspects of Music Listening are Related to Degree of Emotional Arousal, PLoS ONE, 4(10): e7487.

Listening to music is amongst the most rewarding experiences for humans. Music has no functional resemblance to other rewarding stimuli, and has no demonstrated biological value, yet individuals continue listening to music for pleasure. It has been suggested that the pleasurable aspects of music listening are related to a change in emotional arousal, although this link has not been directly investigated. In this study, using methods of high temporal sensitivity we investigated whether there is a systematic relationship between dynamic increases in pleasure states and physiological indicators of emotional arousal, including changes in heart rate, respiration, electrodermal activity, body temperature, and blood volume pulse.  Twenty-six participants listened to self-selected intensely pleasurable music and “neutral” music that was individually selected for them based on low pleasure ratings they provided on other participants' music. The “chills” phenomenon was used to index intensely pleasurable responses to music. During music listening, continuous real-time recordings of subjective pleasure states and simultaneous recordings of sympathetic nervous system activity, an objective measure of emotional arousal, were obtained.  Results revealed a strong positive correlation between ratings of pleasure and emotional arousal. Importantly, a dissociation was revealed as individuals who did not experience pleasure also showed no significant increases in emotional arousal.  These results have broader implications by demonstrating that strongly felt emotions could be rewarding in themselves in the absence of a physically tangible reward or a specific functional goal.

A list of over 200 chill-inducing musical titles submitted by participants may be downloaded here in Table 1.


Blood, A.J., Zatorre, R.J., Bermudez, P., and Evans, A.C. (1999) Emotional responses to pleasant and unpleasant music correlate with activity in paralimbic brain regions. Nature Neuroscience, 2, 382-387.

Neural correlates of the often-powerful emotional responses to music are poorly understood. Here we used positron emission tomography to examine cerebral blood flow (CBF) changes related to affective responses to music. Ten volunteers were scanned while listening to six versions of a novel musical passage varying systematically in degree of dissonance. Reciprocal CBF covariations were observed in several distinct paralimbic and neocortical regions as a function of dissonance and of perceived pleasantness/unpleasantness. The findings suggest that music may recruit neural mechanisms similar to those previously associated with pleasant/unpleasant emotional states, but different from those underlying other components of music perception, and other emotions such as fear.

Stimuli

Major triads
Dominant 7th
Ninth
Eleventh
Thirteenth
Thirteenth Flat
Noise



Blood, A.J. & Zatorre, R.J. (2001) Intensely pleasurable responses to music correlate with activity in brain regions implicated with reward and emotion.  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 98, 11818-11823.

We used positron emission tomography to study neural mechanisms underlying intensely pleasant emotional responses to music. Cerebral blood flow changes were measured in response to subject-selected music that elicited the highly pleasurable experience of "shivers-down-the-spine" or "chills". Subjective reports of chills were accompanied by changes in heart rate, electromyogram, and respiration. As intensity of these chills increased, cerebral blood flow increases and decreases were observed in brain regions thought to be involved in reward/motivation, emotion, and arousal, including ventral striatum, midbrain, amygdala, orbitofrontal cortex, and ventral medial prefrontal cortex. These brain structures are known to be active in response to other euphoria-inducing stimuli, such as food, sex, and drugs of abuse. This finding links music with biologically relevant, survival-related stimuli via their common recruitment of brain circuitry involved in pleasure and reward.

Supporting Results
Supporting Figure 4
Supporting Figure 5
Supporting Figure 6





* All sounds on this page are VBR encoded at approximately 130 Kbps with LAME MP3 encoder and are of lower audio quality than the stimuli used in the actual experiments.  If you use the QuickTime browser plugin to play MP3 files, remember that it sometimes has the odd quirk of not playing media unless its window has focus.