On June 9, I saw an op-ed piece in The New York Times titled “Why Music Makes Our Brain Sing.”
The article describes the way music we love bathes a deep part of our brain – the striatum – with dopamine, the same neurotransmitter whose gradual unnatural depletion is linked to Parkinson’s disease and depression. It’s that same part of the brain that responds to the natural pleasures of food and sex, and the same part that drugs like cocaine and amphetamines artificially please.
Since dopamine is critical to my well-being, particularly as a person with Parkinson’s, I had to wonder: do I need more pleasurable music in my life?
The Pleasure of Anticipation
To learn more about the way music stimulates the brain’s reward system, scientists at that Montreal institute designed a special study. They let subjects listen to new music they probably liked, and gave them the opportunity to purchase special favorites. All the while, researchers monitored the neural activity within their subjects’ striata, those ancient pleasure centers of the brain. Again, no surprise: the most neural activity occurred when subjects were listening to music they ultimately bought.
Impulses Between Striaum and Auditory Cortex
I’ve known people who’ve had strokes that removed their ability to speak. But – way down deep – their ability to respond to music, even their ability to sing or to speak IF THEY SANG THE WORDS, remained somehow intact. I know, too, that I’m likely to forget details of recent conversations, but can recall the lyrics of songs from 60 years ago – perhaps because those words were linked to music, and lodged in some deeper part of my brain.
So . . . music excites those primordial regions of our brains, and – when we really like it – rinses our neurons with the uplifting and restorative power of dopamine. Maybe the vaunted duo we all know affects our health and well-being – diet and exercise – need to welcome a third partner: music.
What am I waiting for? Nothing to lose. So much to gain.