Recognition of musical emotions and their perceived intensity after unilateral brain damage

Cortex. 2020 Sep;130:78-93. doi: 10.1016/j.cortex.2020.05.015. Epub 2020 Jun 12.

Abstract

For the hemispheric laterality of emotion processing in the brain, two competing hypotheses are currently still debated. The first hypothesis suggests a greater involvement of the right hemisphere in emotion perception whereas the second hypothesis suggests different involvements of each hemisphere as a function of the valence of the emotion. These hypotheses are based on findings for facial and prosodic emotion perception. Investigating emotion perception for other stimuli, such as music, should provide further insight and potentially help to disentangle between these two hypotheses. The present study investigated musical emotion perception in patients with unilateral right brain damage (RBD, n = 16) or left brain damage (LBD, n = 16), as well as in matched healthy comparison participants (n = 28). The experimental task required explicit recognition of musical emotions as well as ratings on the perceived intensity of the emotion. Compared to matched comparison participants, musical emotion recognition was impaired only in LBD participants, suggesting a potential specificity of the left hemisphere for explicit emotion recognition in musical material. In contrast, intensity ratings of musical emotions revealed that RBD patients underestimated the intensity of negative emotions compared to positive emotions, while LBD patients and comparisons did not show this pattern. To control for a potential generalized emotion deficit for other types of stimuli, we also tested facial emotion recognition in the same patients and their matched healthy comparisons. This revealed that emotion recognition after brain damage might depend on the stimulus category or modality used. These results are in line with the hypothesis of a deficit of emotion perception depending on lesion laterality and valence in brain-damaged participants. The present findings provide critical information to disentangle the currently debated competing hypotheses and thus allow for a better characterization of the involvement of each hemisphere for explicit emotion recognition and their perceived intensity.

Keywords: Brain lesion; Emotion perception; Music; Right hemisphere hypothesis; Valence hypothesis.