Understanding how the brain translates a structured sequence of sounds, such as music, into a pleasant and rewarding experience is a fascinating question which may be crucial to better understand the processing of abstract rewards in humans. Previous neuroimaging findings point to a challenging role of the dopaminergic system in music-evoked pleasure. However, there is a lack of direct evidence showing that dopamine function is causally related to the pleasure we experience from music. We addressed this problem through a double blind within-subject pharmacological design in which we directly manipulated dopaminergic synaptic availability while healthy participants (n = 27) were engaged in music listening. We orally administrated to each participant a dopamine precursor (levodopa), a dopamine antagonist (risperidone), and a placebo (lactose) in three different sessions. We demonstrate that levodopa and risperidone led to opposite effects in measures of musical pleasure and motivation: while the dopamine precursor levodopa, compared with placebo, increased the hedonic experience and music-related motivational responses, risperidone led to a reduction of both. This study shows a causal role of dopamine in musical pleasure and indicates that dopaminergic transmission might play different or additive roles than the ones postulated in affective processing so far, particularly in abstract cognitive activities.
Keywords: dopamine; motivation; music; pleasure; reward.