Music triggers activity in the same brain structure that releases the "pleasure chemical" dopamine during sex and eating.
Melody and rhythm can trigger feelings from sadness to serenity to joy to awe; they can bring memories from childhood vividly back to life. The taste of a tiny cake may have inspired Marcel Proust to pen the seven-volume novel Remembrance of Things Past, but fire up the Rolling Stones' "Satisfaction" and you'll throw the entire baby-boom generation into a Woodstock-era reverie.
What the scientists found was that the songs that triggered the strongest response from both the emotional and intellectual parts of the brain were correlated with a willingness to pay more. And that suggests that people get not just a sensory reward from listening to music, but a direct intellectual one too — even if they're not aware of it. The nature of that reward, Salimpoor believes, based on this and earlier research, has to do with pattern recognition and prediction. "As an unfamiliar piece unfolds in time," she says, "our brains predict how it will continue to unfold."
Music may, in other words, tap into a brain mechanism that was key to our evolutionary progress. The ability to recognize patterns and generalize from experience, to predict what's likely to happen in the future — in short, the ability to imagine — is something humans do far better than any other animals. It's what allowed us (aided by the far less glamorous opposable thumb) to take over the world.