Recruitment of the motor system during music listening: An ALE meta-analysis of fMRI data

PLoS One. 2018 Nov 19;13(11):e0207213. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0207213. eCollection 2018.


Several neuroimaging studies have shown that listening to music activates brain regions that reside in the motor system, even when there is no overt movement. However, many of these studies report the activation of varying motor system areas that include the primary motor cortex, supplementary motor area, dorsal and ventral pre-motor areas and parietal regions. In order to examine what specific roles are played by various motor regions during music perception, we used activation likelihood estimation (ALE) to conduct a meta-analysis of neuroimaging literature on passive music listening. After extensive search of the literature, 42 studies were analyzed resulting in a total of 386 unique subjects contributing 694 activation foci in total. As suspected, auditory activations were found in the bilateral superior temporal gyrus, transverse temporal gyrus, insula, pyramis, bilateral precentral gyrus, and bilateral medial frontal gyrus. We also saw the widespread activation of motor networks including left and right lateral premotor cortex, right primary motor cortex, and the left cerebellum. These results suggest a central role of the motor system in music and rhythm perception. We discuss these findings in the context of the Action Simulation for Auditory Prediction (ASAP) model and other predictive coding accounts of brain function.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis

MeSH terms

  • Auditory Perception / physiology*
  • Basal Ganglia / diagnostic imaging
  • Basal Ganglia / physiology
  • Brain Mapping
  • Cerebellum / diagnostic imaging
  • Cerebellum / physiology
  • Female
  • Functional Neuroimaging*
  • Humans
  • Likelihood Functions
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Male
  • Motor Cortex / anatomy & histology
  • Motor Cortex / diagnostic imaging*
  • Motor Cortex / physiology*
  • Music*
  • Nerve Net / diagnostic imaging
  • Nerve Net / physiology

Grants and funding

The author(s) received no specific funding for this work.