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Why we buy music

A new study reveals what happens in our brain when we decide to purchase a piece of music when we hear it for the first time. The study, conducted at the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital The Neuro, McGill University and published in the journal Science on April 12, pinpoints the specific brain activity that makes new music rewarding and predicts the decision to purchase music.

Participants in the study listened to 60 previously unheard music excerpts while undergoing functional resonance imaging (fMRI) scanning, providing bids of how much they were willing to spend for each item in an auction paradigm. "When people listen to a piece of music they have never heard before, activity in one brain region can reliably and consistently predict whether they will like or buy it, this is the nucleus accumbens which is involved in forming expectations that may be rewarding," says lead investigator Dr. Valorie Salimpoor, who conducted the research in Dr. Robert Zatorre's lab at The Neuro and is now at Baycrest Health Sciences' Rotman Research Institute. "What makes music so emotionally powerful is the creation of expectations. Activity in the nucleus accumbens is an indicator that expectations were met or surpassed, and in our study we found that the more activity we see in this brain area while people are listening to music, the more money they are willing to spend."

[Listen to the music excerpts used in the study:]

The second important finding is that the nucleus accumbens doesn't work alone, but interacts with the auditory cortex, an area of the brain that stores information about the sounds and music we have been exposed to. The more a given piece was rewarding, the greater the cross-talk between these regions. Similar interactions were also seen between the nucleus accumbens and other brain areas, involved in high

Contact: Anita Kar
McGill University

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