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Commentary


Why some of us love music

Vol. 3, No. 9 / September 2004

As a psychiatrist and music lover, I wonder if Dr. Higgins knows of any quality research that addresses why some of us love music.

I’ve talked with a couple of musicians and psychiatrists about this, and their reactions have been blank stares or even a little resentment. I think music is just assumed to be exciting, and that’s that. But why?

Arnold Knepfer, MD
Corte Madera, CA

Dr Higgins responds

I believe that a little squirt of dopamine at the nucleus accumbens reinforces any activity we enjoy.

After comparing PET scans, Jeffries et al1 found relative increased activity at the nucleus accumbens and other areas when the subjects were singing familiar songs compared to when they were speaking.

This may explain why some music is so pleasurable. I imagine the music we love gives a bigger squirt than the stuff they play on AM radio.

What is the survival value of this? I would speculate that music—commonly a group activity—enhances social connectedness and hence protection, but that’s just a guess.

Reference

  1. Jeffries KJ, Fritz JB, Braun AR. Words in melody: an H(2)15O PET study of brain activation during singing and speaking. Neuroreport 2003;14:749–54.

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