Abstract: Sensitivity to musical structure in the human brain

Sensitivity to musical structure in the human brain

E Fedorenko, J H McDermott, S Norman-Haignere and N Kanwisher

Published in Journal of Neurophysiology, vol.108 pp. 3289--3300, Sep 2012.

DOI: 10.1152/jn.00209.2012.


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  • Evidence from brain-damaged patients suggests that regions in the temporal lobes, distinct from those engaged in lower-level auditory analysis, process the pitch and rhythmic structure in music. In contrast, neuroimaging studies targeting the representation of music structure have primarily implicated regions in the inferior frontal cortices. Combining individual-subject fMRI analyses with a scrambling method that manipulated musical structure, we provide evidence of brain regions sensitive to musical structure bilaterally in the temporal lobes, thus reconciling the neuroimaging and patient findings. We further show that these regions are sensitive to the scrambling of both pitch and rhythmic structure but are insensitive to high-level linguistic structure. Our results suggest the existence of brain regions with representations of musical structure that are distinct from high-level linguistic representations and lower-level acoustic representations. These regions provide targets for future research investigating possible neural specialization for music or its associated mental processes.
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