Inside the Brains of Bieber Fans

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The symptoms include uncontrollable screaming, swooning and spending hours on Twitter and Facebook . It primarily affects preteen and teen girls, yet it is highly contagious and can infect mothers, too.

These are the opening lines of a recent Wall Street Journal article investigating the neuroscience of  “fan mania” – in this case ” “Bieber Fever”, which according to the article is approaching a global pandemic with the release of the 18-year-old pop star,  Justin Bieber’s latest album, “Believe”.

Compared with past outbreaks of fan mania, scientists now have a better understanding of why teens—girls in particular—become so passionate about some musicians, and what looks like mass hysteria is a harmless stage in adolescent development.

Hearing familiar, favorite music stimulates the release of dopamine, the neurotransmitter involved in pleasure and addiction, providing the same rush as eating chocolate or that winning does for a compulsive gambler, says neuroscientist Daniel Levitin,  author of This Is Your Brain on Music, who was a record producer before turning to neuroscience.

Dr. Levitin’s research also showed that musical tastes formed in the teen years become part of the brain’s internal wiring, as that is the time when some neural pathways are solidifying and others are being pruned away. That’s why the music adults tend to be nostalgic for is the music from their teenage years.