Rock stars are prone to substance abuse when the spotlight wears off, and the neurophysiology actually makes sense.
"On a really great day, it feels like I and the band are the music," said Death Cab for Cutie front man Ben Gibbard about performing live. "I feel it on a very spiritual level."
Musicians, of course, are excused for, even expected to talk like this. Sex and drugs and rock and roll, and all that.
But if you're familiar with the concept of flow, you'll notice that Gibbard's description of a great show sounds like athletes' descriptions of a great training session or competition -- total immersion in the task such that the barrier between actor and act disappears. According to a study published in Evolutionary Psychology, there's more than a metaphorical match between Gibbard's in-the-moment music making and the pleasing wash of a good workout. Performing music, the study's authors say, releases endorphins, the body's natural opiates responsible for the famous runner's high.
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In the study, researchers led by Oxford psychology professor Robin Dunbar conducted a series of experiments to see if performing music increased people's pain tolerance. Dunbar used pain tolerance as a measure of endorphin release rather than directly measuring endorphin levels in the bloodstream, on the widely accepted assumption that an observable effect of endorphin release is increased pain tolerance.