Why do human beings enjoy music? Salimpoor et al. combined behavioral economics with brain scanning to explore how a piece of music is considered rewarding to an individual when it is heard for the first time. They discovered that neural activity in the mesolimbic striatum during listening to a novel piece of music was the best predictor of the money listeners were willing to spend on buying the piece. These observations implicate sensory cortical areas in reward processing, which the authors attribute to the aesthetic nature of the judgment.
Salimpoor et al
Science 12 April 2013:
Abstract: “We used functional magnetic resonance imaging to investigate neural processes when music gains reward value the first time it is heard. The degree of activity in the mesolimbic striatal regions, especially the nucleus accumbens, during music listening was the best predictor of the amount listeners were willing to spend on previously unheard music in an auction paradigm. Importantly, the auditory cortices, amygdala, and ventromedial prefrontal regions showed increased activity during listening conditions requiring valuation, but did not predict reward value, which was instead predicted by increasing functional connectivity of these regions with the nucleus accumbens as the reward value increased. Thus, aesthetic rewards arise from the interaction between mesolimbic reward circuitry and cortical networks involved in perceptual analysis and valuation.”