Intensely pleasurable responses to music correlate with activity in brain regions implicated in reward and emotion

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2001 Sep 25;98(20):11818-23. doi: 10.1073/pnas.191355898.


We used positron emission tomography to study neural mechanisms underlying intensely pleasant emotional responses to music. Cerebral blood flow changes were measured in response to subject-selected music that elicited the highly pleasurable experience of "shivers-down-the-spine" or "chills." Subjective reports of chills were accompanied by changes in heart rate, electromyogram, and respiration. As intensity of these chills increased, cerebral blood flow increases and decreases were observed in brain regions thought to be involved in reward/motivation, emotion, and arousal, including ventral striatum, midbrain, amygdala, orbitofrontal cortex, and ventral medial prefrontal cortex. These brain structures are known to be active in response to other euphoria-inducing stimuli, such as food, sex, and drugs of abuse. This finding links music with biologically relevant, survival-related stimuli via their common recruitment of brain circuitry involved in pleasure and reward.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Amygdala / physiology
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Cerebrovascular Circulation
  • Emotions*
  • Female
  • Functional Laterality
  • Heart Rate
  • Hippocampus / physiology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Music / psychology*
  • Organ Specificity
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology
  • Regression Analysis
  • Respiration
  • Reward
  • Tomography, Emission-Computed