Why does listening to our favorite songs give us so much well-being or even thrills of pleasure? Thanks to an experiment carried out with an electroencephalogram, researchers found that this phenomenon occurs when the brain anticipates this good moment and activates its reward system to release dopamine, the hormone of well-being.

To start your day in a good mood, nothing better than listening to your favorite songs. It would even be good for the brain, according to the findings of a study conducted by researchers at the University of Bourgogne Franche-Comté published in the journal Frontiers in Neuroscience.

 The brain's reward system is activated

They confirm that music has the capacity to arouse strong positive feelings by activating the brain's reward system. Indeed, the power of music over human emotions is intriguing and there is an ongoing debate regarding not the mechanics of how music can induce pleasure, but rather why it can be a rewarding experience.

The researchers wanted to decipher a precise phenomenon: when a person experiences pleasant “musical chills”, listening to a beloved song in the car, at a concert or even sitting on a sofa. Neuroscientists have used electroencephalography (EEG), to link this type of chilliness to several regions of the brain involved in activating the reward and pleasure systems. This is a technique for measuring the electrical activity of the brain by placing electrodes over a large area of ​​the scalp. The brains of 18 people who regularly experience chills while listening to their favorite tunes were scanned this way.

 Three different regions of the brain react together

In a questionnaire, they were asked to indicate when they felt these famous chills and to rate their degree of pleasure. "The participants in our study were able to accurately pinpoint the 'shivering' moments in the songs, but most of the musical thrills occurred in many parts of the samples, and not just in the scheduled moments," says Thibault Chabin, Principal author of this study. When the participants felt a chill, each time the researchers saw specific electrical activity in several areas of the brain: the orbitofrontal cortex, supplementary motor area, and the right temporal lobe.

The first region is involved in emotional processing, the second, located in the middle of the brain, is involved in movement control, and the third region located on the right side of the brain is involved in auditory processing and music appreciation. It turns out that these regions work together to process music, trigger the brain's reward systems, and then release dopamine, a “feel-good” hormone and neurotransmitter. Combined with the pleasurable anticipation of listening to a favorite portion of a song, this produces the thrill felt, a physiological response believed to indicate greater cortical connectivity in the brain.

 A link between music and dopamine

“The fact that we can measure this phenomenon with the electroencephalogram provides opportunities for study in other contexts, in more natural scenarios and within groups. This represents a good prospect for the search for musical emotions. », Adds Professor Thibault Chabin. The researchers also found that when a person experiences “musical chills,” the low-frequency electrical signals called “theta activity,” a type of activity associated with successful memory performance against the backdrop of high rewards and performance. musical appreciation, increase or decrease in brain regions involved in musical processing.

The researchers point out that “the most intriguing thing is that music seems to have no biological benefit for us. However, the involvement of dopamine and the reward system in processing musical pleasure suggests an ancestral function for music. We want to measure how the brain and physiological activities of several participants are coupled in natural and social musical contexts. The next step in their study will be to delve deeper into this very interesting phenomenon of "musical pleasure", with the aim of better understanding why music is so rewarding and discovering why it is essential in human life.