Ed. note: This week, in the run-up to Valentine’s Day, we’re featuring a 5-part series about the neuroscience of love and romance. At the end, we’ll put the full series on our website. Enjoy!
Does all this romantic mumbo-jumbo make you feel a little queasy? I have good news: a recent study showed that listening to your favorite music has a similar effect on your brain as other pleasure-inducing activities like having sex. Whether you prefer Tchaikovsky or tango, Mozart or Michael Jackson, MRI and PET scans reveal that when you listen to music that excites you, your brain releases dopamine during the most exciting moments of the song and even in anticipation of those moments.
Some things a person does can produce so much dopamine that over time, the dopamine response lessens, which means you can lose the ability to feel any kind of pleasure at all.
The usual culprits of this dopamine dulling effect are things like cocaine and heroin, which is good news for the great majority of us who are not addicted to illicit substances. The bad news is that if you’re addicted to fatty foods, the same thing could potentially happen to you. If you let rats eat as much cheesecake, bacon, sausage, and other fatty foods as they want, not only will they become obese, but their dopamine responses will start to attenuate over time. So while a small slice of cheesecake once in a while may get your dopamine flowing, overdoing it may have negative consequences on your brain and on your waistline.