Cultural constraints on music perception and cognition

Prog Brain Res. 2009;178:67-77. doi: 10.1016/S0079-6123(09)17805-6.


Research suggests that music, like language, is both a biological predisposition and a cultural universal. While humans naturally attend to and process many of the psychophysical cues present in musical information, there is a great - and often culture-specific - diversity of musical practices differentiated in part by form, timbre, pitch, rhythm, and other structural elements. Musical interactions situated within a given cultural context begin to influence human responses to music as early as one year of age. Despite the world's diversity of musical cultures, the majority of research in cognitive psychology and the cognitive neuroscience of music has been conducted on subjects and stimuli from Western music cultures. From the standpoint of cognitive neuroscience, identification of fundamental cognitive and neurological processes associated with music requires ascertaining that such processes are demonstrated by listeners from a broad range of cultural backgrounds and in relation to various musics across cultural traditions. This chapter will review current research regarding the role of enculturation in music perception and cognition and the degree to which cultural influences are reflected in brain function. Exploring music cognition from the standpoint of culture will lead to a better understanding of the core processes underlying perception and how those processes give rise to the world's diversity of music forms and expressions.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anthropology, Cultural / methods
  • Anthropology, Cultural / trends*
  • Auditory Perception / physiology
  • Brain / physiology
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Cultural Diversity
  • Culture*
  • Humans
  • Learning / physiology
  • Music / psychology*
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology
  • Psychophysiology*