READING in Cognitive Neuroscience of Music


The neurochemistry of music
Mona Lisa Chanda and Daniel J. Levitin
Department of Psychology, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, QC H3A 1B1, Canada
Trends in Cognitive Sciences 17(4): 179-193
Music is one of a small set of human cultural universals [1],
evoking a wide range of emotions, from exhilaration to
relaxation, joy to sadness, fear to comfort, and even combinations
of these [2–4]. Many people use music to regulate
mood and arousal, much as they use caffeine or alcohol
[5–7]. Neurosurgeons use it to enhance concentration [8],
armies to coordinate movements and increase cooperation
[9], workers to improve attention and vigilance [10], and
athletes to increase stamina and motivation [11].
The notion that ‘music is medicine’ has roots that extend
deep into human history through healing rituals practiced
in pre-industrial, tribal-based societies [12]. In contemporary
society, music continues to be used to promote health
and well-being in clinical settings, such as for pain management,
relaxation, psychotherapy, and personal growth.
Although much of this clinical use of music is based on ad
hoc or unproven methods, an emerging body of literature
addresses evidence-based music interventions through
peer-reviewed scientific experiments. In this review, we
examine the scientific evidence supporting claims that
music influences health through neurochemical changes in the following four domains:
(i) reward, motivation and pleasure;
(ii) stress and arousal;
(iii) immunity; and
(iv) social affiliation.
These domains parallel, respectively, the known neurochemical systems of
(i) dopamine and opioids;
(ii) cortisol, corticotrophin-releasing hormone, adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH);
(iii) serotonin and the peptide derivatives of proopiomelanocortin (POMC), including alpha-melanocyte stimulating hormone and beta-endorphin; and
(iv) oxytocin.
Although the  evidence is often  weak  or indirect and  all studies suffer  from  important limitations (Box 1), the reviewed evidence does  provide preliminary  support  for the  claim  that neurochemical changes mediate the  influ- ence of music  on health. Please note that in this article, we differentiate ‘Music Therapy’, a professional discipline and associated practice, from  general music  interventions.