ArsTechnica explores the way music intoxicates us – with dopamine:
To learn more about the music/brain/stimulation process, the McGill researchers followed subjects through the ‘chills’ or ‘musical frisson’ response moment. You may have thought that chills were just a subjective concept, but that isn’t the case. They involve a “clear and discrete pattern of autonomic nervous system (ANS) arousal,” the experimenters say, which facilitate “objective verification through psychophysiological measurements.”
Bottom line: the chills moment “can be used to objectively index pleasure.” So these scientists rounded up a cohort of people who had a proven record of getting the “verifiable chills” when listening to their favorite songs.
It took a while to find these folks. 217 people responded to an advertisement looking for chill-susceptible music lovers. Each candidate provided ten pieces of instrumental music that set them off in some way.
Meanwhile these frisson seekers were MRI scanned during the listening experience, and images that correlated with chill-laden moments were examined.
“We found that hemodynamic activity in the regions showing dopamine release was not constant throughout the [musical] excerpt, but was restricted to moments before and during chills and, critically, was anatomically distinct,” the researchers note.
Since dopamine is also linked with memory access, it’s no surprise that certain songs can bring back memories of long ago. Neurochemically.