The musical brain How music evokes emotions and related positive feelings
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The power of music in eliciting physical reactions has been known since the ancient Greek cultures. The mechanisms behind it however, have long been unclear and are only just recently being unraveled. Numerous brain imaging studies have shown an increase in regional cerebral blood flow in the limbic system during self reported pleasure and strong physiological reactions, called chills, while listening to music. Actual feelings of reward can be evoked by music via dopamine release related activity in the nucleus accumbens, part of the limbic system. Different mechanisms could be responsible for eliciting feelings of reward and pleasure, such as violations of expectations of musical syntax, associative mechanisms or musical contagion. The idea that the strong positive effects of music can be of therapeutic use has lead to music being used as therapy in the Unites States since the forties. The ability of music therapy to relieve depressive symptoms as well as sustaining active patient involvement makes it an interesting method for treating depression. But the current main issue in depression is not necessarily failure of recovery, but the risk of relapse after recovery. Deficits in the hippocampus, amygdala and prefrontal cortex are suggested to correspond to deep-seated cognitive vulnerability, which is an important factor contributing to relapse. Music has been shown to modify these brain structures. Therefore, in the current review, music is proposed as source of self therapy for ameliorating depressive symptoms in order to prevent relapse.