Ventral striatal activity has been previously shown to correspond well to reward value mediated by music. Here, we investigate the dynamic brain response to music and manipulated counterparts using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Counterparts of musical excerpts were produced by either manipulating the consonance/dissonance of the musical fragments or playing them backwards (or both). Results show a greater involvement of the ventral striatum/nucleus accumbens both when contrasting listening to music that is perceived as pleasant and listening to a manipulated version perceived as unpleasant (backward dissonant), as well as in a parametric analysis for increasing pleasantness. Notably, both analyses yielded a ventral striatal response that was strongest during an early phase of stimulus presentation. A hippocampal response to the musical stimuli was also observed, and was largely mediated by processing differences between listening to forward and backward music. This hippocampal involvement was again strongest during the early response to the music. Auditory cortex activity was more strongly evoked by the original (pleasant) music compared to its manipulated counterparts, but did not display a similar decline of activation over time as subcortical activity. These findings rather suggest that the ventral striatal/nucleus accumbens response during music listening is strongest in the first seconds and then declines.
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