UC MERCI Project Wins $300K Award for Music and Science Research


Scott Makeig, research scientist and director of the Swartz Center for Computational Neuroscience at the Institute for Neural Computation of UC San Diego, has brought together a research group from four UC campuses who have won a $300,000 President’s Research Catalyst Award, one of five such awards across the UC system announced by President Janet Napolitano.

The group’s research, which uses music to understand the human brain, “brings together UC experts on music listening, performance, neuroscience, brain imaging, and data science to understand the transformative potential of music for health and cognition,” says Napolitano’s announcement.

Makeig and his colleagues are among the first to receive the new awards, which will channel $10 million over three years to fund research in areas of strategic importance, such as sustainability and climate, food and nutrition, equity and social justice, education innovation, and health care.

“It’s gratifying to know our work on the frontiers of music, systems neuroscience, and human experience has been recognized for its potential value,” said Makeig. “I’m especially pleased for my collaborators. This is a true team effort by scientists from different disciplines with common interests in musical experience and communication.”

His winning project proposes “an American center for the scientific study of musical experience, communication, and behavior.” The UC Music Experience Research Community Initiative (UC MERCI) will allow UC researchers to share cutting-edge resources and collaboratively develop methods to understand – and enhance – music’s ability to affect and even transform the human mind.

Working with Makeig on the project are John Iversen, Sarah Creel, and Gert Lanckriet of UC San Diego; Ramesh Balasubramaniam, UC Merced; Petr Janata, UC Davis; and Mark Tramo, UCLA. Under the initiative, a group of graduate students will work together across the four campuses. California music-industry groups may also be involved.

“The study of musical experience and communication is truly interdisciplinary,” said Makeig. “For centuries, humanists and scientists have studied music and language from different angles and for varied purposes at conservatories and universities around the globe. We now have an opportunity to gain new understanding by using new scientific tools including brain imaging and computation.”

“A thorough and systematic study of music cognition requires a truly multidisciplinary effort, bringing together neuroscience, psychology, cognitive science, linguistics, medicine and, of course, music. While the UC system has much invested in individuals, technologies, and methodologies for studying each of these separately, a systematic interdisciplinary effort to tackle music-cognition problems could enable UC to attain worldwide prominence in these research areas.”


Above information taken directly from full press release by Paul K. Mueller, which may be found here.

More information on MERCI may be found here.


The causal inference of cortical neural networks during music improvisations

The causal inference of cortical neural networks during music improvisations

Wan X1, Crüts B2, Jensen HJ1 
1 Department of Mathematics and Centre for Complexity Science, Imperial College London, London, UK; 2 Brainmarker BV, Molenweg 15a, Gulpen, The Netherlands

“We present an EEG study of two music improvisation experiments. Professional musicians with high level of improvisation skills were asked to perform music either according to notes (composed music) or in improvisation. Each piece of music was performed in two different modes: strict mode and “let-go” mode. Synchronized EEG data was measured from both musicians and listeners. We used one of the most reliable causality measures: conditional Mutual Information from Mixed Embedding (MIME), to analyze directed correlations between different EEG channels, which was combined with network theory to construct both intra-brain and cross-brain networks. Differences were identified in intra-brain neural networks between composed music and improvisation and between strict mode and “let-go” mode. Particular brain regions such as frontal, parietal and temporal regions were found to play a key role in differentiating the brain activities between different playing conditions. By comparing the level of degree centralities in intra-brain neural networks, we found a difference between the response of musicians and the listeners when comparing the different playing conditions.”

For our Italian friends:

Gli Autori presentano uno studio EEG da due esperimenti di improvvisazione musicale. Ai musicisti professionisti, con un grande livello di capacità di improvvisazione, veniva chiesto di eseguire musica composta o di improvvisare. Ogni pezzo musicale veniva eseguito in due modalità differenti: “preciso” e “rilassato”. I dati di sincronizzazione EEG sono stati registrati sia sui musicisti sia sugli ascoltatori. Gli Autori utilizzano una delle più attendibili misure di causalità, l’Informazione reciproca da embedding misto (MIME) condizionale, per analizzare le correlazioni dirette tra differenti canali EEG, che sono stati combinati con la teoria dei network per costruire circuiti sia intra-cerebrali che cross-cerebrali. Sono state identificate differenze nei network intra-neurali tra la musica composta e l’improvvisazione e tra il modo “preciso” e il modo “rilassato”. Particolari regioni cerebrali come quella frontale, parietale e temporale sono state identificate come regioni chiave nella distinzione delle attività cerebrali tra le differenti condizioni di esecuzione. Comparando i diversi gradi di centralità nei network intra-cerebrali, si è riscontrata una differenza tra la risposta dei musicisti e quella degli ascoltatori quando si comparavano le differenti condizioni di esecuzione.

For full article, please visit Cornell University Library.

CALL FOR PAPERS: Biennial Meeting of the Society for Music Perception and Cognition



The biennial meeting of the Society for Music Perception and Cognition will be held at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, on August 1-5, 2015.

Submissions are welcome from a broad range of disciplines, including (but not limited) to Psychology, Neuroscience, Medicine, Education, Engineering, and Musicology. Abstracts for presentations should be no longer than 300 words and should describe the motivation, methodology, results, and implications to the degree that this information is available at the time of submission.  Empirical contributions should refer to the stimuli/corpus, methodology, and data collected.  Theoretical contributions are also welcome, provided that the connection to music perception and cognition is underscored through discussion of aims, methods, and/or results. Abstracts for proposed symposia are welcome and should include individual abstracts as well as a brief description of the theme.

Abstracts can now be submitted as follows:

  1. Prepare your abstract using this template smpc2015abstracttemplate. Formatting requirements are here:http://smpc2015.weebly.com/submitting-an-abstract.html
  1. Register as a new User and Create a CMT account for SMPC conference here:https://cmt.research.microsoft.com/SMPC2015
  1. Go to the drop-down menu “Select Your Role” and choose “Author”. Then click on “Create a new Paper submission” in the Author Console.
  1. Enter in the required information and upload formatted abstract.

Deadline for submissions is 11 pm CDT on February 2, 2015.

Can musical training influence brain connectivity? Evidence from diffusion tensor MRI

Brain Sci 2014 Jun 10;4(2):405-27

Can musical training influence brain connectivity? Evidence from diffusion tensor MRI

(Moore E, Shaefer RS, Bastin ME, Roberts N, Overy K)*


“In recent years, musicians have been increasingly recruited to investigate grey and white matter neuroplasticity induced by skill acquisition. The development of Diffusion Tensor Magnetic Resonance Imaging (DT-MRI) has allowed more detailed investigation of white matter connections within the brain, addressing questions about the effect of musical training on connectivity between specific brain regions. Here, current DT-MRI analysis techniques are discussed and the available evidence from DT-MRI studies into differences in white matter architecture between musicians and non-musicians is reviewed. Collectively, the existing literature tends to support the hypothesis that musical training can induce changes in cross-hemispheric connections, with significant differences frequently reported in various regions of the corpus callosum of musicians compared with non-musicians. However, differences found in intra-hemispheric fibres have not always been replicated, while findings regarding the internal capsule and corticospinal tracts appear to be contradictory. There is also recent evidence to suggest that variances in white matter structure in non-musicians may correlate with their ability to learn musical skills, offering an alternative explanation for the structural differences observed between musicians and non-musicians. Considering the inconsistencies in the current literature, possible reasons for conflicting results are offered, along with suggestions for future research in this area.”

And for our Italian friends:

In tempi recenti i musicisti sono stati sempre più spesso reclutati per indagare la neuroplasticità della sostanza grigia e bianca indotta dall’acquisizione di nuove abilità. Lo sviluppo della risonanza magnetica a tensore di diffusione (DT-MRI) ha permesso un’indagine più dettagliata delle connessioni della materia bianca all’interno del cervello, permettendo di rispondere a quesiti che interessano lo sviluppo della neuroplasticità indotta dal training musicale. In questo studio, si discutono le potenzialità di questo metodo e si evidenziano le differenze di connettività riscontrate nel cervello di musicisti e non musicisti. Globalmente, la letteratura attuale tende a supportare un aumento della connettività interemisferica indotta dalla pratica musicale, con differenze significative trovate nelle varie regioni del corpo calloso dei musicisti rispetto ai non musicisti. In ogni caso, le differenze nelle fibre intra-emisferiche non sono sempre replicate, mentre le osservazioni riferite alla capsula interna e al tratto corticospinale sembrano essere contraddittorie. Esiste anche una recente evidenza che suggerisce che la variabilità nella struttura della sostanza bianca nei non musicisti possa correlare con la loro capacità di acquisire nuove abilità musicali, offrendo una spiegazione alternativa per le differenze strutturali osservate tra i musicisti e i non musicisti. Considerando le incongruenze nella letteratura, gli Autori propongono una possibile spiegazione per i risultati contraddittori, suggerendo una strategia per la ricerca futura in quest’area delle neuroscienze.

*(1 Institute for Music in Human and Social Development (IMHSD), Reid School of Music, Alison House, 12 Nicolson Square, Edinburgh EH8 9DF, UK; 2 SAGE Center for the Study of the Mind, University of California, Santa Barbara, CA 93106, USA; 3 Centre for Clinical Brain Science, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh EH8 9YL, UK; 4 Clinical Research Imaging Centre (CRIC), University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh EH8 9YL, UK; 5 Institute for Music in Human and Social Development (IMHSD),Reid School of Music, Alison House, 12 Nicolson Square, Edinburgh EH8 9DF, UK)

“Neuromusic News” edited by Fondazione Mariani.
Contributors: Luisa Lopez, Giuliano Avanzini, Maria Majno and Barbara Bernardini.

This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/).

Musical Hallucinations Not Necessarily of a Psychiatric Nature

Rev Neurol 2014 Mar 1;58(5):207-12
Musical hallucinations: perpetual music                                                                                                                                                                     Hospital Donostia, 20014 San Sebastian, Spain

Musical hallucinations are a kind of auditory hallucinaion that are prevalent among the non-psychiatric population, but which have rarely been reported in the neurological literature. They occur most frequently in the elderly, in females and when there is a loss of hearing, but their pathophysiology has still to be unravelled.. We report here six cases (five females and one male) of musical hallucinations diagnosed in a general neurology clinic over a time-span of five years. In five cases there was also concurrent hypoacusis, to a greater or lesser extent, and one had been triggered by pentoxifylline. In most instances, the musical content of the hallucinations had its origins in music experienced in childhood and early youth. In the cases submitted to pharmacological treatment, the response was poor. Yet, after explaining to the patients that the condition was benign and had no connection with a psychotic pathology, the degree of acceptance of the symptoms was good. Musical hallucinations are a little-known pathology lying on the borderline between neurology, otorhinolaryngology and psychiatry which are often wrongly linked to mental disease. It is essential to explain to patients and relatives that these symptoms are not necessarily of a psychiatric nature, and to be aware of the potential capacity of some commonly used drugs to generate them.

Per gli Italiani:

Le allucinazioni musicali sono un tipo di allucinazione uditiva prevalente nella popolazione non psichiatrica, ma che raramente vengono riportate nella letteratura neurologica. Si manifestano in prevalenza nelle persone anziane, soprattutto donne, quando vi sia una perdita dell’udito, ma la loro fisiopatologia resta ancora oggi poco chiara. In questo studio gli Autori riportano 6 casi (5 donne e un uomo) di soggetti affetti da allucinazioni musicali diagnosticate in una clinica di neurologia generale in un periodo di cinque anni. In 5 casi i pazienti presentavano anche ipoacusia di grado variabile, in un caso scatenata dalla pentoxifillina. Nella maggior parte dei casi il contenuto musicale delle allucinazioni consisteva nell’udire musica relativa al periodo dell’infanzia o dell’adolescenza. Nei casi trattati farmacologicamente, la risposta è stata scarsa. Dopo che è stato spiegato ai pazienti che il sintomo era benigno e non aveva alcuna connessione con una patologia psicotica, il grado di accettazione dei sintomi è stato buono. In conclusione, le allucinazioni musicali sono una patologia poco conosciuta che si inserisce in un contesto borderline tra la neurologia, l’otorinolaringoiatria e la psichiatria, e viene spesso erroneamente associata ai disordini mentali. È essenziale spiegare ai pazienti e ai loro parenti che questi sintomi non sono necessariamente di natura psichiatrica, e tenere in considerazione il fatto che possono essere sollecitati da molti farmaci di uso comune.

Abstract provided by US National Library of MedicineNational Institutes of Health.

‘Beautiful but sad’ music can help people feel better

psychology-sad-music-enhances-mood-300x214Listening to sad music in adverse situations: How music selection strategies relate to self-regulatory goals, listening effects, and mood enhancement

Annemieke J.M. Van den Tol, School of Psychology, University of Kent, Keynes E-105, Canterbury, CT2 7NP, UK. Email: A.J.M.van-den-Tol@kent.ac.uk


Adults’ (N = 220) reported motivations for listening to sad music after experiencing adverse negative circumstances were examined by exploring how their music selection strategies related to (a) their self-regulatory goals, and (b) reported effects of listening. The effects of music selection strategies, self-regulatory goals, and reported effects on the achievement of mood enhancement were also explored using a retrospective survey design. The findings indicate that music choice is linked to the individual’s identified self-regulatory goals for music listening and to expected effects. Additionally, the results show that if individuals had intended to achieve mood enhancement through music listening, this was often achieved by first experiencing cognitive reappraisal or distraction. The selection of music with perceived high aesthetic value was the only music selection strategy that directly predicted mood enhancement. Where respondents indicated that they chose music with the intention of triggering memories, this was negatively related to the self-regulatory goal of mood enhancement.

Source: neurosciencenews.com, Psychology of Music (SAGE)

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