Every new song you write and perform could be helping listeners to feel better, it seems.  A new scientific study in Canada – published in the journal Science – has found that listening to new music is rewarding for the brain.

Using MRI scans, a team of Canadian scientists found that areas in the reward centre of the brain become active when people hear a song for the first time. And connections in the brain region called the nucleus accumbens “light up” and become stronger the more the listener enjoys what he or she is hearing.

“We know that the nucleus accumbens is involved with reward,” Dr Valorie Salimpoor, from the Rotman Research Institute in Toronto, told the BBC World Service’s Science in Action programme. “But music is abstract. It’s not like you’re really hungry and you’re about to get a piece of food and you’re really excited about it because you’re going to eat it. The same thing applies to sex or money. That’s when you would normally see activity in the nucleus accumbens.

“But what’s cool is that you’re anticipating and getting excited over something entirely abstract – and that’s the next sound that is coming up.”

The study was conducted at the Montreal Neurological Centre at McGill University. The scientists played 19 volunteers 60 excerpts of new music while the participants were lying in an MRI machine. As they listened to the 30-second tracks, they were able to ‘buy’ the songs they liked in a simulated online music store.

Dr Salimpoor said: “As they are listening to this music, we can look at their brain activity and figure out how they are appreciating or enjoying this music before they even tell us anything.”

The researchers found that the nucleus accumbens was also interacting with another region of the brain called the auditory cortical stores – an area that ‘saves’ sound information based on music that people have been exposed to in the past.

Dr Salimpoor said: “This part of the brain will be unique for each individual, because we’ve all heard different music in the past.”

The Canadian scientists say they now intend to study how the ‘rewarding’ effects of new music can help to drive people’s music tastes – and whether brain activity can explain why people are drawn to different styles of music.

Maybe such advances in neuroscience will finally give aspiring songwriters a means of finding out whether the song they’ve just written and agonized over for weeks really is a potential hit!

(Image via Picgifs.com)

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