Dynamic emotional and neural responses to music depend on performance expression and listener experience

PLoS One. 2010 Dec 16;5(12):e13812. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0013812.

Abstract

Apart from its natural relevance to cognition, music provides a window into the intimate relationships between production, perception, experience, and emotion. Here, emotional responses and neural activity were observed as they evolved together with stimulus parameters over several minutes. Participants listened to a skilled music performance that included the natural fluctuations in timing and sound intensity that musicians use to evoke emotional responses. A mechanical performance of the same piece served as a control. Before and after fMRI scanning, participants reported real-time emotional responses on a 2-dimensional rating scale (arousal and valence) as they listened to each performance. During fMRI scanning, participants listened without reporting emotional responses. Limbic and paralimbic brain areas responded to the expressive dynamics of human music performance, and both emotion and reward related activations during music listening were dependent upon musical training. Moreover, dynamic changes in timing predicted ratings of emotional arousal, as well as real-time changes in neural activity. BOLD signal changes correlated with expressive timing fluctuations in cortical and subcortical motor areas consistent with pulse perception, and in a network consistent with the human mirror neuron system. These findings show that expressive music performance evokes emotion and reward related neural activations, and that music's affective impact on the brains of listeners is altered by musical training. Our observations are consistent with the idea that music performance evokes an emotional response through a form of empathy that is based, at least in part, on the perception of movement and on violations of pulse-based temporal expectancies.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Auditory Perception / physiology
  • Emotions / physiology
  • Facial Expression*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Male
  • Models, Neurological
  • Motor Cortex / pathology
  • Music*
  • Neurons / pathology*
  • Signal Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Time Factors