Researchers in this particular study used participant-selected music, chosen because of its ability to generate "chills" to determine what types of biological responses were evident upon listening to these pieces. Participants all had eight years or more of music training; this stipulation was chosen because this particular population is "likely to experience strong emotional responses to music." Using a PET scan, researchers examined brain activity while each participant's music played.
Participants reported feeling "chills" during 77% of scans when self-selected music was played. These feelings were associated with increases in heart rate, respiratory rate, and nervous stimulation. Additionally, brain structures associated with reward circuitry also demonstrated changes while the participants reported these heightened feelings of euphoria; these increases included rCBF increases in the left ventral striatum and dorsomedial midbrain as well as decreases in right amygdala and left hippocampus. Using control music, researchers verified that the brain activity correlated specifically to the feelings of having the "chills."
This type of brain activity indicates a reward process involving dopamine and other neurotransmitters. Therefore, music seems to employ the neural system in much the same way that other "biologically relevant stimuli," such as food and sex do (as well as biological reactions to recreational drugs).
Music therefore has the capacity to induce "intense pleasure" that can contribute to mental health and better physical well-being. The implications of this research are far-reaching. This research supports the use of music as a form of therapy (imagining that the self-selected music generates similar feelings of euphoria). There are other sources, such as the one linked below, that similarly outline various ways music can be used to improve health, including lowering blood pressure, reducing muscle tension, and increasing motivation.