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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Effects of voice on emotional arousal

(From the Department of Neurology, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School, Boston MA, USA; Department of Psychology, Wesleyan University, Middletown CT, USA).

Effects of voice on emotional arousal – Loui P, Bachorik JP, Li HC, Schlaug G

In December 2011, as a slight detour from some graduate school meetings, I traveled to Vienna to attend the 2nd World Congress of Clinical Neuromusicology. It was here that I met Dr. Gottfried Schlaug and witnessed his intriguing presentation on Melodic Intonation Therapy (MIT). This groundbreaking work has since proved to be a useful form of therapy in a variety of pragmatic ways across the general public. 

He comes to us now with results from a study investigating the effects of the human voice and lyricism have on emotional valence and arousal, and though the results may prove less than shocking, the implications for the continued study of emotion and music should be:

Music is a powerful medium capable of eliciting a broad range of emotions. Although the relationship between language and music is well documented, relatively little is known about the effects of lyrics and the voice on the emotional processing of music and on listeners’ preferences. In the present study, we investigated the effects of vocals in music on participants’ perceived valence and arousal in songs. Participants (N = 50) made valence and arousal ratings for familiar songs that were presented with and without the voice. We observed robust effects of vocal content on perceived arousal. Furthermore, we found that the effect of the voice on enhancing arousal ratings is independent of familiarity of the song and differs across genders and age: females were more influenced by vocals than males; furthermore these gender effects were enhanced among older adults. Results highlight the effects of gender and aging in emotion perception and are discussed in terms of the social roles of music.

For my Italian friends: 

La musica è un mezzo potentissimo capace di sollecitare un’ampia varietà di emozioni. Sebbene la relazione tra il linguaggio e la musica sia ben documentata, si sa relativamente poco circa gli effetti delle parole e della voce sull’elaborazione delle emozioni musicali e delle preferenze dell’ascoltatore. In questo studio, gli Autori indagano l’effetto della voce cantata sulla percezione della valenza emotiva e dell’arousal sugli ascoltatori. 50 partecipanti sono stati invitati a esprimere un giudizio sulla valenza emotiva delle canzoni familiari che venivano loro presentate, con o senza voce. Gli Autori hanno osservato un potente effetto del contenuto delle parole sull’arousal percepito. Inoltre, gli Autori hanno rilevato che l’effetto delle parole nell’aumentare i punteggi di arousal era indipendente dalla familiarità del pezzo ed era differente tra individui di sesso ed età diversi. Le donne erano più influenzate dalle parole rispetto agli uomini, e questi effetti dipendenti dal genere aumentavano con l’aumentare dell’età dei soggetti. I risultati sottolineano l’importanza del genere e dell’età nella percezione delle emozioni nella musica e vengono discussi in termini di ruolo sociale della musica.

For further inquiry into the study, please visit Frontiers.