Curiosity or pleasure, what comes first when we listen to a song?

  • The research group on Cognition and Brain Plasticity from IDIBELL and the UB answered this question with an experiment in the Milan auditorium, with the Milan orchestra and 1,000 members of the public as study participants.
  • The results, analyzed simultaneously, showed that curiosity precedes pleasure when listening to a new song.
NO037 - AR Fornells_Orquestra - imatge noti

You hear a new song, you like it, it interests you, you want to listen to it again, and it makes you feel good. But what happens before? Has the curiosity that the song aroused made you like it? Or because you like the song, you have been curious about it?

This is the question that the Cognition and Brain Plasticity research group of the Bellvitge Biomedical Research Institute (IDIBELL) and the University of Barcelona (UB) wanted to solve through a large live experiment with the Milan symphony orchestra. Using the 1,000 members of the public as study participants, the experiment was part of the scientific dissemination journey in Milan that mix music and science.

We wanted an experience in a natural environment, in a concert hall, where the participants would listen to live music from a large orchestra, and not small fragments of songs recorded as in happened in the laboratory“, says Dr. Antoni Rodríguez Fornells, head of the IDIBELL and UB research group.

Of the 1,000 concert attendees, 727 decided to participate in the experiment that the group of scientists proposed. Participate was very easy, while the orchestra played “Fratres” by Arvo Pärt, a little-known song to ensure audience curiosity, participants had to indicate the degree of curiosity or pleasure they were feeling at each moment.

Credit: Milan Symphony Orchestra
Credit: Milan Symphony Orchestra

Through a mobile application, half the audience assessed the pleasure they felt and the other half the curiosity. They were measured in real-time, through a graduated bar (like a thermometer) they showed their interest and pleasure. The results showed that there was indeed a temporal correlation between curiosity and pleasure. First, a song arouses curiosity, and it is this interest that makes us feel pleasure after a few seconds.

After the piece of music, the conductor of the orchestra, Ruben Jais, and the neuroscientist who promoted the experiment, Laura Ferreri, from the University of Pavia, gave an informative talk on neuroscience and music. During the talk, they took the opportunity to explain the different elements that composed the piece and the reason for each of them.

Credit: Milan Symphony Orchestra
Credit: Milan Symphony Orchestra

To end the day, the orchestra performed the piece Arvo Prät again, and the attendees were asked to reassess their pleasure and curiosity. This second time, the curiosity for the song remained, however, the pleasure felt increased. “Knowing the structure of the song and the reason for it makes you appreciate it more and you like it more. If you know more about the subject you will be able to enjoy it more“, says Gemma Cardona, a researcher at IDIBELL and the UB.

To the surprise of all attendees, the researchers presented the preliminary results obtained during the first performance of the piece, which was highly appreciated by the audience. Dr. Xim Cerdá, a researcher at the Autonomous University of Barcelona and IDIBELL, assures that “it has been a great experience that we would like to repeat in Catalonia. Now it is time to analyze the results in depth to learn more about the natural evolution of curiosity and the pleasure that the songs make us feel“.

Credit: Milan Symphony Orchestra
Credit: Milan Symphony Orchestra



The Bellvitge Biomedical Research Institute (IDIBELL) is a biomedical research center created in 2004. It is participated by the Bellvitge University Hospital and the Viladecans Hospital of the Catalan Institute of Health, the Catalan Institute of Oncology, the University of Barcelona and the City Council of L’Hospitalet de Llobregat.

IDIBELL is a member of the Campus of International Excellence of the University of Barcelona HUBc and is part of the CERCA institution of the Generalitat de Catalunya. In 2009 it became one of the first five Spanish research centers accredited as a health research institute by the Carlos III Health Institute. In addition, it is part of the “HR Excellence in Research” program of the European Union and is a member of EATRIS and REGIC. Since 2018, IDIBELL has been an Accredited Center of the AECC Scientific Foundation (FCAECC).

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