Ernest Mas-Herrero, Alain Dagher & Robert J. Zatorre
Nature Human Behaviour 2, 27–32 (2017)
Humans have the unique capacity to experience pleasure from aesthetic stimuli, such as art and music. Recent neuroimaging findings with music have led to a model in which mesolimbic striatal circuits interact with cortical systems to generate expectancies leading to pleasure1,2. However, neuroimaging approaches are correlational. Here, we provide causal evidence for the model by combining transcranial magnetic stimulation over the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex to directly modulate fronto-striatal function3 bidirectionally together with measures of pleasure and motivation during music listening. Our results show that perceived pleasure, psychophysiological measures of emotional arousal, and the monetary value assigned to music, are all significantly increased by exciting fronto-striatal pathways, whereas inhibition of this system leads to decreases in all of these variables compared with sham stimulation. These findings support the hypothesis that fronto-striatal function causally mediates both the affective responses and motivational aspects of music-induced reward, and provide insights into how aesthetic responses emerge in the human brain.