Tension-related activity in the orbitofrontal cortex and amygdala: an fMRI study with music

Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci. 2014 Oct;9(10):1515-23. doi: 10.1093/scan/nst141. Epub 2013 Aug 22.


Tonal music is characterized by a continuous flow of tension and resolution. This flow of tension and resolution is closely related to processes of expectancy and prediction and is a key mediator of music-evoked emotions. However, the neural correlates of subjectively experienced tension and resolution have not yet been investigated. We acquired continuous ratings of musical tension for four piano pieces. In a subsequent functional magnetic resonance imaging experiment, we identified blood oxygen level-dependent signal increases related to musical tension in the left lateral orbitofrontal cortex (pars orbitalis of the inferior frontal gyrus). In addition, a region of interest analysis in bilateral amygdala showed activation in the right superficial amygdala during periods of increasing tension (compared with decreasing tension). This is the first neuroimaging study investigating the time-varying changes of the emotional experience of musical tension, revealing brain activity in key areas of affective processing.

Keywords: emotion; expectancy; fMRI; music; tension-resolution patterns.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Acoustics
  • Adult
  • Amygdala / blood supply*
  • Amygdala / physiology
  • Brain Mapping
  • Female
  • Functional Laterality
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Male
  • Music*
  • Oxygen / blood
  • Pitch Perception / physiology*
  • Prefrontal Cortex / blood supply*
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology
  • Young Adult


  • Oxygen