Effects of attention on the neural processing of harmonic syntax in Western music

Brain Res Cogn Brain Res. 2005 Dec;25(3):678-87. doi: 10.1016/j.cogbrainres.2005.08.019. Epub 2005 Oct 28.


The effects of selective attention on the neural response to the violation of musical syntax were investigated in the present study. Musical chord progressions were played to nonmusicians while Event-Related Potentials (ERPs) were recorded. The five-chord progressions included 61% harmonically expected cadences (I-I(6)-IV-V-I), 26% harmonically unexpected cadences (I-I(6)-IV-V-N(6)), and 13% with one of the five chords having an intensity fadeout across its duration. During the attended condition, subjects responded by pressing a button upon detecting a fadeout in volume; during the unattended condition, subjects were given reading comprehension materials and instructed to ignore all auditory stimuli. In response to the harmonic deviant, an Early Anterior Negativity (EAN) was observed at 150-300 ms in both attention conditions, but it was much larger in amplitude in the attended condition. A second scalp-negative deflection was also identified at 380-600 ms following the harmonic deviants; this Late Negativity onset earlier during the attended condition. These results suggest strong effects of attention on the neural processing of harmonic syntax.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology
  • Data Interpretation, Statistical
  • Electroencephalography
  • Eye Movements / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Loudness Perception / physiology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Music / psychology*
  • Perception / physiology