We’ve all hummed songs we can’t get out of our heads, but one man couldn’t get an entire artist out of his head. For years. And it never would have happened if his brain hadn’t received therapeutic doses of electrical current.
Deep brain stimulation turned the Dutch man into one of the world’s biggest Johnny Cash fans. The man goes my the name of Mr. B. in the medical literature, and he has has suffered from a severe form of obsessive compulsive disorder since he was 13. In an attempt to treat his symptoms, doctors implanted electrodes in the then-59-year-old’s nucleus accumbens, the part of the brain that plays a role in reward, impulse, addiction, and reinforcement.
The treatment was an attempt to treat his compulsions and anxiety, and it seemed to work. Mr. B. noticed an improvement in his symptoms, reportedly saying he felt like a “new and improved” man.
Then something bizarre happened. Nicky Woolf, writing for the Guardian:
Over the course of the next six months, an unexpected side effect started to emerge. It first happened, according to the report, when Mr B happened to hear the Johnny Cash song Ring of Fire on the radio. “From this moment on,” the report says, “Mr B kept listening simply and solely to Johnny Cash and bought all his CDs and DVDs.”
When listening to his favourite songs, the report adds, Mr B felt like he was the hero in a movie, and although he played Johnny Cash songs almost exclusively for the following years, the music never annoyed him.
His favourite songs are Fulsom Prison Blues, Ring of Fire and Sunday Morning Coming Down.
Mr. B. remained a Cash-man until the batteries that powered the electrodes ran out. At that point, he reverted back to his old musical tastes—the Rolling Stones and some Dutch artists—though he wasn’t nearly as ardent a listener as before. Doctors speculate that Mr. B. always had the potential to be a real music lover and Johnny Cash fan, but his disorder may have prevented him from connecting with the country artist’s winsome tunes.
It’s tempting to speculate on the role the nucleus accumbens played in Mr. B.’s affinity for Cash, but as Neuroskeptic notes, this was just a case study, not a rigorous clinical experiment. Myriad other causes could be behind it, including Mr. B.’s new outlook on life. But whatever the cause, it’s hard to fault Mr. B. on his choice of music.