How The Brain Processes Music

Researchers from the Stanford University School of Medicine have published results of a survey designed to analyse the brain’s circuitry for event segmentation. To do this, they asked subjects to listen to several symphonies by William Boyce. These works were chosen because they are relatively short, and feature well-defined movements…

Music Changes On The Right

It has been observed in the past that the right side of the brain takes a leading role when it comes to processing musical stimuli, a fact which was confirmed again in this study. More specifically, magnetic resonance imaging of the subjects’ brains whilst listening to the symphonies revealed that the dorsal and ventral areas of the prefrontal cortex were particularly active. MRI uses magnetic fields to monitor blood flow, which is an indicator of brain activity. As such, the results here suggest that “the right hemisphere plays a dominant role in the perceptual segmentation of salient, coarse-grained event boundaries in music”.

The ultimate goal of the research is not only to monitor neurological responses to musical stimuli, however – music simply provides a convenient natural source of stimulus for observing the brain’s activities during event segmentation. According to the researchers:

“Studying event segmentation in real-world or “ecologically valid” stimuli is of particular interest for two reasons: first, such an investigation can reveal perceptual grouping processes that occur under natural conditions; second, there is growing evidence suggesting that neuronal populations behave differently under natural conditions than they do under controlled experimental conditions… For instance, responses of neurons to simple, controlled stimuli are often not predictive of how they respond to more complex, natural stimuli. Currently, the brain systems underlying the segmentation of ecologically valid stimuli, particularly in the auditory domain, are poorly understood…Studying such segmentation processes in music may be a useful window into similar processes in other domains, such as spoken and signed language, visual perception, and tactile perception.”

For more details on the research, Terradaily have an article here, or you can go to the Stanford site and watch their video.


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