MINNEAPOLIS, MN | June 28, 2023

The “Relaxation Network” of the Brain

By: Daniel Levitin


My PhD student, Adiel Mallik, published a landmark experiment in the study of the brain's emotional responses to music. For the first time, he showed that the brain releases its own internal opioids (endogenous opioids) in response to music listening, and that this is a major reason why we like music, and why it makes us feel good. (Unlike exogenous opioids, from drugs, endogenous opioids are non-addictive.)

Dr. Mallik is now working in the laboratory of my friend and colleague, Dr. Frank Russo, at Toronto Metropolitan University. They've just published an important paper called "Developing a music-based digital therapeutic to help manage the neuropsychiatric symptoms of dementia." Much of what they say in the paper, in fact, applies broadly to all forms of anxiety and agitation, pointing a focused arrow at musical medicine for relaxation. 

The Power of personalized music

Extending my earlier work on brain mapping, they've developed a model of the "relaxation network" of the brain, showing how neurodegeneration is a function of the failure to relieve stress and anxiety, underscoring the importance of non-pharmaceutical musical interventions that promote relaxation. 


Effective music therapies, interventions and self-care require personalized music, rather than "off-the-shelf" relaxation music. This is because familiar or self-selected music leads to greater activation of the brain's reward center—dopaminergic, serotonergic, and opioidergic pathways in the brain, particularly the μ-opioids that Adiel found in his doctoral dissertation. In turn, activation of the musical reward system improves functional connectivity throughout the brain, linking areas of cognition, perception, and movement activity that otherwise are subject to degeneration with aging.



But how to find the right music?

Russo, Mallik and colleagues write:

Because personalization is so important to the effectiveness of music it stands to reason that a limiting factor in scalability of any effective music program will be the time and effort required to personalize music for a given individual. This may be especially challenging when the caregiver has limited experience with the person living with dementia and/or the individual has limited communication abilities. A licensed music therapist would be able to cultivate some level of personalization through careful interaction and observation with an individual. However, there are barriers to accessing music therapists, which limits the benefits that may be obtained from music engagement.

MIIR is a suite of technologies built on a proprietary algorithm that enable us to extract musical features that parallel the brain's emotional responses to music. MIIR is built to provide scalable access to personalized and customized music, currently capable of analyzing more than 50,000 songs an hour.



Transform Music Discovery & Engagement

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