This Is Your Brain on Music

This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession
Author Daniel J. Levitin
Country United States and Canada
Language English
Subject music theory, cognitive psychology, neuroscience, popular music, memoir
Publisher Dutton Penguin
Publication date
Published in English
August 2008
Media type Print (paperback)
Pages 314
ISBN 0-525-94969-0
OCLC 196370454
LC Class ML3830
Followed by The World in Six Songs

This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession is a popular science book written by the McGill University neuroscientist Daniel J. Levitin, and first published by Dutton Penguin in the U.S. and Canada in 2006, and updated and released in paperback by Plume/Penguin in 2007. It has been translated into 18 languages and spent more than a year on The New York Times, The Globe and Mail, and other bestseller lists, and sold more than one million copies.[1]

The aim of This Is Your Brain on Music was to make recent findings in cognitive neuroscience of music accessible to the educated layperson.[2] Characteristics and theoretical parameters of music are explained alongside scientific findings about how the brain interprets and processes these characteristics.[3] The neuroanatomy of musical expectation, emotion, listening and performance is discussed.

This Is Your Brain on Music describes the components of music, such as timbre, rhythm, pitch, and harmony[4] and ties them to neuroanatomy, neurochemistry, cognitive psychology, and evolution,[4][5][6] while also making these topics accessible to nonexpert readers by avoiding the use of scientific jargon.[3] One particular focus of the book is on cognitive models of categorization and expectation, and how music exploits these cognitive processes.[4][5] The book challenges Steven Pinker's "auditory cheesecake" assertion that music was an incidental by-product of evolution, arguing instead that music served as an indicator of cognitive, emotional and physical health, and was evolutionarily advantageous as a force that led to social bonding and increased fitness, citing the arguments of Charles Darwin, Geoffrey Miller and others.[7]

This Is Your Brain on Music was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award in 2006-2007 for best in the Science and Engineering category, and a Quill Award for best debut author of 2006-2007. It was named one of the best books of the year by The Globe and Mail, The Independent and The Guardian.[8] A long list of prominent scientists and musicians have praised it, including Oliver Sacks, Francis Crick, Brian Greene, David Byrne, George Martin, Yoko Ono, Neil Peart, Victor Wooten, Pete Townshend and Keith Lockhart, and it has been adopted for course use in both science and literature classes at dozens of universities including MIT, Dartmouth College, UC Berkeley, Stanford, Kenyon College, the University of Wisconsin. Two documentary films were based on the book: The Musical Brain (2009) featuring Levitin as host, along with appearances by Sting, Michael Bublé, Feist, and former Fugees leader Wyclef Jean; and The Music Instinct (2009) with Levitin and Bobby McFerrin as co-hosts, with appearances by Yo Yo Ma, Jarvis Cocker, Daniel Barenboim, Oliver Sacks and others. In 2009, Harvard University announced This Is Your Brain on Music would be required reading in its Freshman Core Program in General Education.[9]In 2011-2012, the Physics Department at the California Institute of Technology adopted it as a textbook.

Current editions


Other languages


  1. Nielsen Bookscan
  2. Huron, D. (2006). "Exploring How Music Works Its Wonders". Cerebrum.
  3. 1 2 Sullivan, J. (2006, August 20). "He's rocking the world of neuroscience". The Boston Globe.
  4. 1 2 3 Bortz, F. (2006, September 3). "The science of music, the purpose of music". The Seattle Times, p. E&A J9.
  5. 1 2 Rothenberg, D. (2006, July 29). "Music on your mind". The Globe and Mail, pp. D8-D9.
  6. Fenton, J. (2006, September 29). "The food of love". The Guardian, Features & Review p. 9.
  7. (2006, August 7). Publishers Weekly.
  8. (2008, September 21). "Pick of the paperbacks 2008". The Guardian.
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