The Nucleus Accumbens – Sex, Drugs, and Rock n Roll

The nucleus accumbens is a group of nerve cells in your brain, part of the mesolimbic system, responsible for pleasure and motivation. It helps determine what foods we like, what we do with our lives, and has an influence on basically anything we enjoy. The nucleus accumbens is in integral part of sexual arousal, drug addiction, and musical satisfaction.

So there’s a physiological construct behind the age-old stereotype of “sex, drugs, and rock and roll.”

The nucleus accumbens regulates dopamine, a key neurotransmitter involving pleasure. When you are listening to music, it releases dopamine in rhythm with the music. It even begins to predict where the music is going.

This is most evident in jazz music. Most people either love jazz or hate it. Jazz theory is a completely different branch of music theory, as it relies heavily on dissonance and improvisation. Defying these conventions causes a jolt to the nucleus accumbens, which some people find immediately displeasing. Others welcome this changing of the rules, and feel a greater satisfaction with the anticipation created by a jazz clarinet solo, and absolutely love it when the clarinet modulates back to the home key and releases the tension.

The Blurred Reality of Humanity compares the ego to a jazz band:

What the numerous pathologies of self-experience expose is that even in normal cases, there is no unified “I” behind experience. Rather, to use another musical metaphor, the mind is like a jazz orchestra that usually plays with sufficient harmony to disguise the fact that it lacks a single player, a score, or even a conductor. A few bum notes or absent musicians, however, and the illusion is shattered.

Here’s another really cool snippet comparing consciousness to a pipe organ:

Consciousness of self emerges from a network of thousands or millions of conscious moments. Gazzaniga explains this thought with a metaphor of a pipe organ. “The thousands or millions of conscious moments that we each have reflect one of our networks being ‘up for duty’. These networks are all over the place, not in one specific location. When one finishes, the next one pops up. The pipe organ-like device plays its tune all day long. What makes emergent human consciousness so vibrant is that our pipe organ has lots of tunes to play.”

The nucleus accumbens also plays a role in dancing. As the chemicals are released in rhythm, they communicate with the cerebellum, and are responsible for coordinating movement and involuntary body control.

For some reason, my nucleus accumbens and cerebellum don’t talk to each other at all.


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