Can't get enough of a new song? It's all in your nucleus accumbens. A creative neuroimaging study basically explains what happens in your brain when you fall in love with a new piece of music.

Canadian researchers found specific patterns of brain activity that predicted how much people wanted to purchase a track they heard for the first time on a downloading platform like iTunes.

In a previous brain imaging study they published in 2011, Valorie Salimpoor of McGill University in Montreal and her supervisor Dr. Robert Zatorre discovered that dopamine, a major reward neurotransmitter, surges while people listen to a familiar, favorite piece of music.

Dopamine promotes powerful feelings of pleasure that reinforce rewarding behaviors like eating, sex, and exercise- as well as others like gambling and drug intoxication. Many animals have active dopamine pathways, but it seems that, discounting ambiguous sea lion evidence, only humans experience pleasure from music.

In the new research, published in the journal Science on April12, Salimpoor and Zatorre were interested in exploring what causes the rush of euphoria that comes from a compelling new piece of music. They designed an experiment to identify brain patterns that indicated how much participants liked music they had never heard before.

While they lay in a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner, participants listened to excerpts from 60 unfamiliar songs. The fMRI tracked participants' real-time brain activity while they bid on each track on a computer interface similar to iTunes. They spent their own money: $0, $0.99, $1.29, or $2, depending on how much they liked each track. After participation ended, they got to keep a CD of the tracks they bought.

To account for idiosyncratic music tastes, Salimpoor explained to Live Science that she chose the 60 songs used in the experiment by surveying 126 volunteers about their musical preferences, then narrowed them down to 19 who, true to Montreal's local scene, shared similar tastes in indie and electronica.

She then used music recommendation sites like Pandora and to finalize a list of 60 tracks that were distinct from the songs and artists those volunteers had named on their surveys, but that they were still likely to appreciate. The list included popular artists like The Black Keys, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Florence + the Machine, Jonsi, and LCD Soundsystem, along with other more obscure acts.

The resulting brain scans showed that when volunteers listened to the tracks for which they paid the most money, there was a consistent pattern of activity between the nucleus accumbens, the brain's "pleasure center" which forms expectations of reward with dopamine, and the auditory cortex in the superior temporal gyrus, which processes sound and stores information about what was heard in the past.

The more money a person spent on a particular track, the more activity there was in the nucleus accumbens, and between it and the auditory cortex.

The nucleus accumbens also interacted with other brain regions during pleasurable songs, including the amygdala, which plays a major role in emotional processing; the hippocampus, which forms new memories; the ventromedial prefrontal cortex and orbitofrontal cortex, involved in value-guided decision-making; and the right caudate nucleus and premotor cortex, which are involved in beat processing.

"These results help us to see why people like different music," said Zatorre in a statement. "Each person has their own uniquely shaped auditory cortex, which is formed based on all the sounds and music heard throughout our lives." Essentially, it's your brain's personal Pandora.

While listening to new music, the nucleus accumbens builds expectations based on memories of previous music, and the pleasure we get comes from the intellectual reward of our expectations being fulfilled.

If you're an aficionado of Strauss or Chopin, your nucleus accumbens might fire heavily as an unfamiliar classical music piece builds to a crescendo. If you've been getting into EDM, dopamine will surge right as the beat drops.

In a conversation with National Geographic, Salimpoor explained what was probably happening in her own brain during the life-altering experience of hearing Johannes Brahms's Hungarian Dance No. 5 for the first time a few years ago:

"I'd be like, oh my god I just released dopamine, and my nucleus accumbens is now communicating with the superior temporal gyrus, and that's pulling up some other memories of when I was 12 and playing the violin. And then that's linking it to my visual centers, so I can imagine this perfect synchronized orchestra and me playing a violin in there. And I'd be predicting the next sounds from each instrument in the orchestra, and the whole orchestra, so it's a local and global prediction going on at the same time."

Salimpoor, now at the Rotman Research Institute in Toronto, told Science Now that her next project will focus on how the superior temporal gyrus shapes our future musical preferences.

The research comes at the same time as another new study highlighting music's unique role in the human mind from Stanford University, which found that different people's brains process the same piece of music with similar neural patterns, which are distinct from those in response to other kinds of sound.

You can check out excerpts from the study's full playlist at the Zatorre lab website.