A recent study has shown that increasing dopamine levels in the brain boosts music-related motivation.
Recent research on music and dopamine
Music is a well-known modulator of the autonomous nervous system. It’s not clear how, and if at all, the pleasure from listening to music differs from primary rewards (food, sex) on the biochemical level. And it’s not a minor question.
Responding to primary rewards has a clear evolutionary benefit - survival. Music and other abstract inputs (paintings, etc.) do not provide survival values. Understanding neurochemical circuits that drive motivational responses to abstract rewards might have enormous implications for addiction treatment.
A recent paper by Laura Ferreri and coworkers shed new light on this issue. In a double-blind setup, scientists have tested responses to music after giving participants levodopa (dopamine precursor), risperidone (dopamine agonist), and placebo. The motivation was measured by asking participants how much of their own money they were willing to spend on each song (this is a very interesting experimental setup for testing motivation).
Researchers have found that increasing dopamine levels had boosted both the musical pleasure and motivation while decreasing them had the opposite effect.
What that could mean in practice?
I think the most actionable element of those results is related to motivation. If you would like to use music for motivational purposes (like working out to the “Rocky” soundtrack), you might have better results after consuming Mucuna pruriens seeds. This plant contains levodopa (among other things) and is studied as alternative to pure levodopa in Parkinson’s treatment. Mucuna somehow exhibits less adverse effects than pure levodopa.
As opposed to systematic exposure to dopaminergic drugs, occasional ingestion of Mucuna should not increase the risk of behavioral disturbances observed in long term Parkinson’s patients.