What is the purpose of music? A review of evolutionary and pleasurable research findings

Ever wonder what happens in your brain and body when you get chills from a musical performance?

This 2013 summary review of 126 studies provided details of brain areas that contribute to our enjoyment of music.

Much of the review addressed Darwin’s observation that music had no readily apparent functional consequence and no clear-cut adaptive function. The researchers noted that:

“There is scant evidence that other species possess the mental machinery to decode music in the way humans do, or to derive enjoyment from it.”

Rather than quote extensively, in my view, the reasons why different types of music affect us differently is similar to the Reciprocity behaviors differ as to whether we seek cerebral vs. limbic system rewards study.


Okay, maybe if I quote a little:

“The nucleus accumbens played an important role with both familiar and novel music. In the case of familiar music, hemodynamic activity in the nucleus accumbens was associated with increasing pleasure, and maximally expressed during the experience of chills, which represent the peak emotional response; these were the same regions that showed dopamine release. The nucleus accumbens is tightly connected with subcortical limbic areas of the brain, implicated in processing, detecting, and expressing emotions, including the amygdala and hippocampus. It is also connected to the hypothalamus, insula, and anterior cingulate cortex, all of which are implicated in controlling the autonomic nervous system, and may be responsible for the psychophysiological phenomena associated with listening to music and emotional arousal.”

That was a little of the “We seek limbic system rewards” part. What follows is some of the “We seek cerebral rewards” part.

“Finally, the nucleus accumbens is tightly integrated with cortical areas implicated in “high-level” processing of emotions that integrate information from various sources, including the orbital and ventromedial frontal lobe. These areas are largely implicated in assigning and maintaining reward value to stimuli and may be critical in evaluating the significance of abstract stimuli that we consider pleasurable.”

http://www.pnas.org/content/110/Supplement_2/10430.full “From perception to pleasure: Music and its neural substrates”

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