Neurophysiology and neurobiology of the musical experience

Funct Neurol. 2006 Oct-Dec;21(4):187-91.


Music, a universal art form that exists in every culture around the world, is integral to a number of social and courtship activities, and is closely associated with other creative behaviours such as dancing. Recently, neuroimaging studies have allowed researchers to investigate the neural correlates of music processing and perception in the brain. Notably, musical stimuli have been shown to activate specific pathways in several brain areas associated with emotional behaviours, such as the insular and cingulate cortex, hypothalamus, hippocampus, amygdala, and prefrontal cortex. In addition, neurochemical studies have suggested that several biochemical mediators, such as endorphins, endocannabinoids, dopamine and nitric oxide, may play a role in the musical experience. A growing body of evidence also indicates that music therapy could be useful in the clinical management of numerous neurological and psychiatric disorders. Indeed, music therapy could be effective in patients with neurodegenerative disorders, such as Alzheimer's dementia and Parkinson?s disease, as well as in psychiatric illnesses, such as schizophrenia, depression, anxiety and autism spectrum disorders. Unfortunately, there is still a shortage of rigorous scientific data supporting the clinical application of music therapy, and there is thus a need to confirm and expand the preliminary findings regarding the potential and actual effectiveness of music therapy. This need should be addressed through prospective, randomized, controlled, single-blinded investigations of the short- and long-term effects of music therapy in diverse clinical conditions.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain / anatomy & histology
  • Brain / physiology
  • Electrophysiology
  • Emotions / physiology
  • Humans
  • Music / psychology*
  • Music Therapy
  • Nervous System Physiological Phenomena*
  • Perception
  • Seizures / physiopathology