It’s like in that old children’s song: “Wake up with a tune in your head: It’s just a miracle, it’s just luck.” When we listen to music, the reward system in our brain is stimulated, which ultimately results in a pleasant feeling. Research published this week in a professional journal Journal of Neuroscience It is now shown that our brain also gives us this reward when we listen to a song in our head.
says Erik Scherder, professor of clinical neuropsychology at VU and non-research associate.
Neuropsychologists listened to four Bach melodies and recorded their brain activity. This was followed by a round of silent measurements, in which participants were instructed to imagine the same music. When the researchers put the measurements side by side, they looked identical.
“A special discovery,” says Professor Scherder. Researchers have found that certain areas of the brain are activated when people listen to a song in their head that corresponds to areas involved in listening to live music. When we listen to music, that area of the brain tries to predict what the melody will do: Will there be a high pitch or perhaps an acceleration? Remarkably, it is this prediction mechanism that activates the brain’s reward system, as if our brains were ahead of music. It doesn’t matter if the prediction is correct (a really high note) or incorrect (there is no acceleration anyway): the brain loves affirmations as well as surprises.
It turns out that the prediction game played by the brain works the same way we imagine music. Probably with the same result, the researchers wrote: pleasant feeling. The question is whether any music lover can benefit equally from the songs in the head. Only professional musicians who could flawlessly play and sing Bach’s compositions took part in the study. So, says Scherder, they are experienced listeners, and our musical brains simply cannot compare to that of an ordinary person.