The Independent’s journalism is supported by our readers. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn commission.

Music and sex stimulate the same part of the brain

When researchers blocked the production of natural opioid substances, people no longer liked their favourite songs as much

Rock star Iggy Pop performs with The Stooges
Rock star Iggy Pop performs with The Stooges

Sex, drugs and rock’n’roll has been a preoccupation of generations of young people since the 1960s, while even even Shakespeare wrote: “If music be the food of love, play on.”

And now scientists have discovered one reason why they seem to go so well together.

For the same chemical system in the brain that produces feelings of pleasure as a result of having sex, taking recreational drugs or eating tasty food is also stimulated by listening to a favourite tune.

To test the theory, the researchers found a way to temporarily block the natural opioid substances produced when we are having a good time.

Seventeen test subjects were then played music to see if doing this had an effect.

Dr Daniel Levitin, a neuroscientist at McGill University in Canada as well as a musician and record producer, said: “The impressions our participants shared with us after the experiment were fascinating.

“One said: ‘I know this is my favourite song but it doesn’t feel like it usually does’.

“Another admitted: ‘It sounds pretty, but it’s not doing anything for me’.”

He added that this was the first time it had been shown conclusively that opioids in the brain were “directly involved in musical pleasure”.

Alcohol, sex, gambling and other activities that stimulate this system can lead to damaging addictive behaviour in a similar way to recreational drugs.

It is hoped that understanding the processes involved could help lead to new ways to treat addiction.

This again harks back to Shakespeare. The full sentence above, spoken by the apparently heartbroken Duke Orsino in Twelfth Night, is: “If music be the food of love, play on,/ Give me excess of it; that surfeiting,/ The appetite may sicken, and so die.”

The researchers said the ability of music to affect our emotions so strongly suggested humans have evolved over a long period to like it.

Writing in the journal Scientific Reports, the researchers said their findings “add to the growing body of evidence for the evolutionary biological substrates of music”.

A recent study found cheese contains a chemical contained in addictive drugs, giving a reason why some foods are more addictive than others.

And, in other research, music during exercise was also found to help people exercise harder by releasing chemicals that make people feel less tired.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in