Play it again sam: brain correlates of emotional music recognition

play_it_sam_play_as_time_goes_byEckart Altenmüller1*Susann Siggel1Bahram Mohammadi2,3Amir Samii3 and Thomas F. Münte2
  • 1Institute of Music Physiology and Musicians’s Medicine, University of Music, Drama and Media, Hannover, Germany
  • 2Department of Neurology, University of Lübeck, Lübeck, Germany
  • 3CNS Laboratory, International Neuroscience Institute, Hannover, Germany

Background: Music can elicit strong emotions and can be remembered in connection with these emotions even decades later. Yet, the brain correlates of episodic memory for highly emotional music compared with less emotional music have not been examined. We therefore used fMRI to investigate brain structures activated by emotional processing of short excerpts of film music successfully retrieved from episodic long-term memory.

Methods: Eighteen non-musicians volunteers were exposed to 60 structurally similar pieces of film music of 10 s length with high arousal ratings and either less positive or very positive valence ratings. Two similar sets of 30 pieces were created. Each of these was presented to half of the participants during the encoding session outside of the scanner, while all stimuli were used during the second recognition session inside the MRI-scanner. During fMRI each stimulation period (10 s) was followed by a 20 s resting period during which participants pressed either the “old” or the “new” button to indicate whether they had heard the piece before.

Results: Musical stimuli vs. silence activated the bilateral superior temporal gyrus, right insula, right middle frontal gyrus, bilateral medial frontal gyrus and the left anterior cerebellum. Old pieces led to activation in the left medial dorsal thalamus and left midbrain compared to new pieces. For recognized vs. not recognized old pieces a focused activation in the right inferior frontal gyrus and the left cerebellum was found. Positive pieces activated the left medial frontal gyrus, the left precuneus, the right superior frontal gyrus, the left posterior cingulate, the bilateral middle temporal gyrus, and the left thalamus compared to less positive pieces.

Conclusion: Specific brain networks related to memory retrieval and emotional processing of symphonic film music were identified. The results imply that the valence of a music piece is important for memory performance and is recognized very fast.

Received: 29 April 2013; Accepted: 27 January 2014;
Published online: 18 February 2014.

Edited by: Daniel J. Levitin, McGill University, Canada

Reviewed by: Stefan Koelsch, Freie Universität Berlin, Germany and Psyche Loui, Wesleyan University, USA

Taken from open-access article published in Front. Psychol. distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). For full text of the article, please visit Frontiers.

Photo: Flickr Creative Commons

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