Why do we love music? A view from cognitive neuroscience
Music has existed in human societies since prehistory, perhaps in part because it allows expression and regulation of emotion, and evokes pleasure.
In this lecture I will present findings from cognitive neuroscience that bear on the question of how we get from perception of sound patterns to pleasurable responses. I will first discuss evidence that corticocortical loops from and to the auditory cortex are responsible not only for perceptual processes but also for working memory, sensory-motor, and predictive functions that are essential to produce and perceive music. Then, I will discuss neuroimaging and brain modulation studies from our lab focusing on the dopaminergic reward system, its involvement in musical pleasure, and what happens when that system is disrupted.
I propose that pleasure in music arises from interactions between cortical loops that enable expectancies to emerge from perceived sound patterns, and subcortical systems responsible for reward and valuation. This model integrates knowledge derived from basic neuroscience of reward mechanisms with independently derived concepts, such as tension and anticipation, from music theory. It may also serve as a way of thinking more broadly about aesthetic rewards.