Unlocking the Beat: Dopamine and Eye Blink Response to Classical Music

Leigh M. Riby, Sam K. Fenwick, Dimana Kardzhieva, Beth Allan, Deborah McGann

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The present study examined music-induced dopamine release, as measured by a proxy measure of spontaneous eye blinks. Specifically, we explored the effects of uplifting and sombre tones in different sections of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons to investigate the affective content of musical pieces within one composition. Seventeen participants listened to four concertos (Major modes: “Spring” and “Autumn”, Minor modes: “Summer” and “Winter”) and a silence condition while completing a three-stimulus odd-ball attention task. Electrooculograms were recorded from electrodes placed above and under the left eye. Self-reported arousal and music preference measures were also gathered during the testing session. In addition, the P3a Event-Related Potential (ERP) component was analysed as another potential index of dopamine function. Results revealed significant differences in the blink rates during music listening and silence, with the largest effect observed for the sad, melancholic “Winter” concerto. However, no significant correlation was found between blink rate and music preference or arousal. Furthermore, no reliable association was found between blink rate and the P3a ERP component, suggesting that these measures tap into different aspects of dopamine function. These findings contribute to understanding the link between dopamine and blink rate, particularly in response to classical music. Crucially, the study’s discovery that the “Winter” concerto, with its sorrowful tone, significantly increased the blink rate highlights the significance of sad music and perhaps the programmatic qualities of this concerto to induce a strong emotional response.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)152-163
Number of pages12
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 20 Jun 2023

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