Monday, 17 January 2011

‘Cocaine (all around my brain)’

Who doesn’t know this JJ Cale song? Eric Clapton and others have performed it as well, and it is often mooted as an anti-drug song. The link between music and pleasure seems an obvious notion to many people. A recent publication in Nature Neurogenetics1 by researchers at the McGill University in Montreal, Canada has given this notion some scientific backing. They detected elevated dopamine2 levels in the brains of people listening to their favourite music. In some cases their dopamine level was 21% above normal. So JJ Cale knew it all along: music is like cocaine, it can raise your dopamine levels.

Music and pleasure: how does this stack up from an evolutionary point of view? It has been shown that dopamine levels increase in male birds when they sing to attract female birds3. That makes sense if you want to get as many descendants as possible and to keep your genes ‘alive’. But what about the human situation? Did Romeo get a kick out of serenading Juliet? Do we get tickled by singing in a choir or a sing-along at a concert? What advantage does it give humans to sing (well)? Giving pleasure to others and yourself may have some cultural benefits but in a Darwinian sense? What does it do for the survival of the species? I am certain that it has a valid evolutionary explanation. So, if you know of any enlightening research in this field please mail me (or sing it time). Thanks.



3 Singing To Females Makes Male Birds’ Brains Happy. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 6, 2008, from­/releases/2008/10/081003122545.htm

Peter Hoeben

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