How can music-merely a stream of sounds-be enjoyable for so many people? Recent accounts of this phenomenon are inspired by predictive coding models, hypothesizing that both confirmation and violations of musical expectations associate with the hedonic response to music via recruitment of the mesolimbic system and its connections with the auditory cortex. Here we provide support for this model, by revealing associations of music-induced pleasantness with musical surprises in the activity and connectivity patterns of the nucleus accumbens (NAcc)-a central component of the mesolimbic system. We examined neurobehavioral responses to surprises in three naturalistic musical pieces using fMRI and subjective ratings of valence and arousal. Surprises were associated with changes in reported valence and arousal, as well as with enhanced activations in the auditory cortex, insula and ventral striatum, relative to unsurprising events. Importantly, we found that surprise-related activation in the NAcc was more pronounced among individuals who experienced greater music-induced pleasantness. These participants also exhibited stronger surprise-related NAcc-auditory cortex connectivity during the most pleasant piece, relative to participants who found the music less pleasant. These findings provide a novel demonstration of a direct link between musical surprises, NAcc activation and music-induced pleasantness.
Keywords: fMRI; music; nucleus accumbens; surprise; valence.
© The Author(s) 2019. Published by Oxford University Press.