Could Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation Affect Our Musical Tastes?

Written by | December 27, 2017 20:48 | No Comments

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This morning, I was trying to read a study comparing brains of classical music lovers and heavy metal music lovers, and it seems that MRI scans show significant differences, as lovers of heavy metal music ‘showed functional alterations’ in certain parts of the brains that the authors said ‘may partly explain the disorders of behavioral and emotional cognition in HMML compared with CML’

Without too many details (I have only access to the abstract of the study), I can only say there are neurobiological differences among people who listen to different types of music, and it’s difficult to say if it is the type of music which alters the functioning of the brain a certain way or if a specific brain functioning makes you love a certain type of music,… may be it’s a two-way interaction, who knows?

However, this recent study published by Nature, brings a new twist on this brain-music connection: a team of McGill University and Montreal Neurological Institute scientists have demonstrated that transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) (a technique used to treat depression) can change someone’s musical tastes. Humans are sensible to art and music because these stimuli affect the reward system of the brain, a part which is also stimulated when you eat chocolate (or anything else you love eating), when you have sex or when you take drugs. As a result, dopamine, the neurotransmitter of happiness, is released, and we are trying to relive the experience.

Previous studies have showed that the fronto-striatal circuit in the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) is the part of the brain which is stimulated when we listen to music, but this part is mostly good at anticipating a reward — the part that is stimulated when another event associated with the real reward is sent to the brain, like the bell in the Pavlov experiment.

Scientist have applied TMS on 17 participants in 3 separate trials. They had trials which either increase or decrease the reward response, and trials with no effects (fake TMS) as a control experiment. The participants had to listen to their favorite music (and explained at the same time why they liked the music) and music chosen by the researchers.

When researchers applied excitatory TMS, in order to increase the reward response, people found any music more enjoyable, and when they applied inhibitory TMS, in order to decrease the reward response, people found the music less enjoyable. If they wanted to listen to the music again, participants were given the option to buy it with their own money.

‘Our results show that perceived pleasure, psychophysiological measures of emotional arousal, and the monetary value assigned to music, are all significantly increased by exciting fronto-striatal pathways, whereas inhibition of this system leads to decreases in all of these variables compared with sham stimulation,’ wrote the authors of the study.

Imagine the possibilities, imagine using excitatory TMS while you listen to these pop songs you cannot stand, and suddenly liking them? So far they don’t know how long this effect lasts or if it is a permanent state (probably not)… I just wonder how many TMS sessions I would need to be able to tolerate anything from Taylor Swift or Justin Bieber.

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