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The Neuroscience of Music Recognition

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THE NEUROSCIENCE OF MUSIC RECOGNITION: MUSIC’S CONNECTION WITH
LANGUAGE AND ITS CAPACITY TO CAPTURE EMOTIONAL FEELING
Chris Roberts
MUH 277
University of Maine at Farmington
Dr. Steve Pane
6/15/15
Roberts 2
The Neuroscience of Music Recognition: Music’s Connection with Language and its
Capacity to Capture Emotional Feeling
As individuals communicate and collaborate with others in societies, or local
communities, having the knowledge of what matters to express oneself and ones’
personal identity becomes of vital importance. The ability to express and relate with
other people in our surrounding area has come about in the past as an evolutionary
skill. As we have evolved into modern day civilians, the skill of expression has also
evolved from being a mechanism that revolves around survival to a skill that allows
emotion to be created and shared. As members of the community continue to use
the emotion of fear for both survival and recreation, the emotion that began with
our ancestors has now expanded due to human collaboration and industrial growth.
As humans evolved from our Australopithecus robustus ancestors towards our
modern day homo sapius form, our emotional database has evolved to present a
more conscious and unconscious ability to capture and feel emotions such as love,
joy and sadness as we began to have the ability to live a life that had aspects that did
not revolve around constant fear of survival.
Prior to going into the details of neuroscience, and more specifically the
aspect of the biological feeling of emotion, let us explore the definition of emotion
and the challenge that comes with simplifying such an abstruse concept. In their
well-known researched-based book Psychology of Music: From Sound to Significance,
Siu-Lan Tan, Peter Pfordresher and Rom Harre define emotion as being closely
linked with the similar biological and psychodynamic aspects of an individual’s
feelings and moods. Although feelings and moods link closely with the ideals of
Roberts 3
emotion, it is also mentioned that the word emotion has a very independent
definition. In this piece of literature, first published in 2010, emotions are thought to
include feelings (a subjective experience, e.g., sorrow), but also to involve appraisals
of a situation (e.g., death of a family member), to be focused on an object (family
member), and to be associated with the physical expression of emotion(s). This
definition is written in a manner that lets readers spark the argument that the
emotional response that comes with music recognition revolves around the ability
to spark a connection that brings out a certain emotional response. In 2008, another
researcher by the name of Koneccni worked with this aspect of emotion and music.
This work states that music elicits powerful psychological feelings that gravitate
towards the ideals of emotion when associated with extra musical thoughts or
occurrences (Koneccni 2008). The work of Koneccni is an example of the past
research that was cited and looked at by Siu-Lan Tan, Peter Pfordresher and Rom
Harre prior to their publication in 2010.
The biological model of neuroscience revolves around the understanding of
how these emotional responses result from both the conscious connection
individuals make with past and present parts of their lives and the unconscious
creation of emotion that sparks through association. Researchers as far back as
1959, such as Deryck Cooke, have stated that music is a language that is capable of
expressing certain definite things. An important focus becomes how the mind and
corresponding individual perceive and react. One example of how individuals may
differ in their personal thoughts and responses towards pieces of music is that of
enjoyment and/or overall judgment. Neurologically the brain has a different
Roberts 4
response to music depending on how an individual perceives it. These responses
impact very important portions of the brain’s construction that deal with aspects of
reward and fear.
For instance, evidence from an fMRI study suggests that consonant
musical intervals (which are pleasant and harmonious to the ear)
stimulate a region of the orbitofrontal cortex…which is associated
with reward and reinforcement (Blood, Zatorre, Bermudez, & Evans,
1999; see also Mitterschiffthaler, Fu, Dalton, Andrew, and Williams,
2007 for a similar result with longer musical excerpts). By contrast,
dissonant intervals increase activity in the parahippocampal gyrus, a
region that has intricate connections to the amygdala, the brain’s
‘warning center.’ Further evidence of the role of the amygdala as a
warning center extending to music comes from a study showing that
removal of the amygdala (to prevent seizure) leads to a reduced
ability to recognize ‘scary’ music (Tan, Pfordresher & Harre 2010)
This research is groundbreaking due to the fact that it presents the argument that
neuroscience has a form of an identity, or perspective. This work shows that music
does not always have a definite set effect on the brain, but contrarily results from
the conscious and/or unconscious result of the individuals' reflection of the tune. As
music has the ability to spark neurological activity within the brain, it also becomes
clear that music and situational-emotional responses triggered by the amygdala are
connected. As the brain responds to unpleasant music, the amygdala is found to
present neurological activity as that of a dangerous situation. Danger, a result of
Roberts 5
fear, is the emotional response of the individual. These situational responses can be
seen as a result of individual identity and personal cognitive thought. Through
collaborative interaction with others and exposure to differing factors that may
trigger a reaction from the amygdala, the level of neurological activity that is found
in the fight/flight principle of the human mind begins to be altered by the
experience of the individual. This alteration makes the response not only situational,
but also personal due to the individuality. As researchers have found this activity to
be present within the brain, there is another strong reasoning for the belief in this
connection that we are exploring due to how the activity is not present with the
removal of this region of the brain.
This past research and information being discussed introduces the idea of
integration. This idea was discussed in the piece of research-based literature above,
and brings forth the addition of language to the conversation of understanding
neurological activity. Research has presented evidence of this idea of integration, or
the idea that similar brain regions allow us to communicate with either language or
music. Due to the ways in which the brain reacts, one can argue that music has a
similar construction to that of language. One researcher looked into this and did
psychological research with two patients with lesions, which deficits an individuals’
ability to process aspects of music. The topic of question being explored was if an
inability to process characteristics of music would affect the ability to sight and
comprehend “music-like” aspects of language. It was found that one of these
patients was unable to discriminate sentences, based on intonation. This choice of
wording refers to the pattern of rising and falling of pitch that can be distinguished
Roberts 6
in language. Mankind has become able to distinguish from the rising pitch of a
question and the falling pitch of the corresponding answer (Patel, Perez, Tramo, &
Labreque 1998).
As this similarity between music recognition and language comprehension is
explored, it is important to look at where the brain is triggered and the level of
neurological activity that occurs. Beginning with the idea of location within the
brain, past research introduces what brain regions have been found to commonly
home activity when recognizing and working with language. As the research being
explored presents areas of neurological activity, the comparison, and overall
similarities that come with the same active recognition and work with music is
analyzed to look for similar types of responses at the neurological level of the
human mind.
Various findings from studies using fMRI show brain activation in the
vicinity of Broca’s area (ventral part of the left frontal lobe) – long
considered the locus of speech production. For instance, the presence
of unexpected chords in music stimulates activity in Broca’s area
(Koelsch, Gunter, Cramon, Zysset, Lohmann, & Frederici,
2002)…These findings support a newer view of Broca’s area and
surrounding regions as being responsible for processing syntax, rules
for ordering sequences in ways that are coherent to the perceiver,
regardless of whether the rules obtain for musical or linguistic
sequences (Tan, Pfordresher & Harre 2010).

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The Neuroscience of Music Recognition

  • 1. THE NEUROSCIENCE OF MUSIC RECOGNITION: MUSIC’S CONNECTION WITH LANGUAGE AND ITS CAPACITY TO CAPTURE EMOTIONAL FEELING Chris Roberts MUH 277 University of Maine at Farmington Dr. Steve Pane 6/15/15
  • 2. Roberts 2 The Neuroscience of Music Recognition: Music’s Connection with Language and its Capacity to Capture Emotional Feeling As individuals communicate and collaborate with others in societies, or local communities, having the knowledge of what matters to express oneself and ones’ personal identity becomes of vital importance. The ability to express and relate with other people in our surrounding area has come about in the past as an evolutionary skill. As we have evolved into modern day civilians, the skill of expression has also evolved from being a mechanism that revolves around survival to a skill that allows emotion to be created and shared. As members of the community continue to use the emotion of fear for both survival and recreation, the emotion that began with our ancestors has now expanded due to human collaboration and industrial growth. As humans evolved from our Australopithecus robustus ancestors towards our modern day homo sapius form, our emotional database has evolved to present a more conscious and unconscious ability to capture and feel emotions such as love, joy and sadness as we began to have the ability to live a life that had aspects that did not revolve around constant fear of survival. Prior to going into the details of neuroscience, and more specifically the aspect of the biological feeling of emotion, let us explore the definition of emotion and the challenge that comes with simplifying such an abstruse concept. In their well-known researched-based book Psychology of Music: From Sound to Significance, Siu-Lan Tan, Peter Pfordresher and Rom Harre define emotion as being closely linked with the similar biological and psychodynamic aspects of an individual’s feelings and moods. Although feelings and moods link closely with the ideals of
  • 3. Roberts 3 emotion, it is also mentioned that the word emotion has a very independent definition. In this piece of literature, first published in 2010, emotions are thought to include feelings (a subjective experience, e.g., sorrow), but also to involve appraisals of a situation (e.g., death of a family member), to be focused on an object (family member), and to be associated with the physical expression of emotion(s). This definition is written in a manner that lets readers spark the argument that the emotional response that comes with music recognition revolves around the ability to spark a connection that brings out a certain emotional response. In 2008, another researcher by the name of Koneccni worked with this aspect of emotion and music. This work states that music elicits powerful psychological feelings that gravitate towards the ideals of emotion when associated with extra musical thoughts or occurrences (Koneccni 2008). The work of Koneccni is an example of the past research that was cited and looked at by Siu-Lan Tan, Peter Pfordresher and Rom Harre prior to their publication in 2010. The biological model of neuroscience revolves around the understanding of how these emotional responses result from both the conscious connection individuals make with past and present parts of their lives and the unconscious creation of emotion that sparks through association. Researchers as far back as 1959, such as Deryck Cooke, have stated that music is a language that is capable of expressing certain definite things. An important focus becomes how the mind and corresponding individual perceive and react. One example of how individuals may differ in their personal thoughts and responses towards pieces of music is that of enjoyment and/or overall judgment. Neurologically the brain has a different
  • 4. Roberts 4 response to music depending on how an individual perceives it. These responses impact very important portions of the brain’s construction that deal with aspects of reward and fear. For instance, evidence from an fMRI study suggests that consonant musical intervals (which are pleasant and harmonious to the ear) stimulate a region of the orbitofrontal cortex…which is associated with reward and reinforcement (Blood, Zatorre, Bermudez, & Evans, 1999; see also Mitterschiffthaler, Fu, Dalton, Andrew, and Williams, 2007 for a similar result with longer musical excerpts). By contrast, dissonant intervals increase activity in the parahippocampal gyrus, a region that has intricate connections to the amygdala, the brain’s ‘warning center.’ Further evidence of the role of the amygdala as a warning center extending to music comes from a study showing that removal of the amygdala (to prevent seizure) leads to a reduced ability to recognize ‘scary’ music (Tan, Pfordresher & Harre 2010) This research is groundbreaking due to the fact that it presents the argument that neuroscience has a form of an identity, or perspective. This work shows that music does not always have a definite set effect on the brain, but contrarily results from the conscious and/or unconscious result of the individuals' reflection of the tune. As music has the ability to spark neurological activity within the brain, it also becomes clear that music and situational-emotional responses triggered by the amygdala are connected. As the brain responds to unpleasant music, the amygdala is found to present neurological activity as that of a dangerous situation. Danger, a result of
  • 5. Roberts 5 fear, is the emotional response of the individual. These situational responses can be seen as a result of individual identity and personal cognitive thought. Through collaborative interaction with others and exposure to differing factors that may trigger a reaction from the amygdala, the level of neurological activity that is found in the fight/flight principle of the human mind begins to be altered by the experience of the individual. This alteration makes the response not only situational, but also personal due to the individuality. As researchers have found this activity to be present within the brain, there is another strong reasoning for the belief in this connection that we are exploring due to how the activity is not present with the removal of this region of the brain. This past research and information being discussed introduces the idea of integration. This idea was discussed in the piece of research-based literature above, and brings forth the addition of language to the conversation of understanding neurological activity. Research has presented evidence of this idea of integration, or the idea that similar brain regions allow us to communicate with either language or music. Due to the ways in which the brain reacts, one can argue that music has a similar construction to that of language. One researcher looked into this and did psychological research with two patients with lesions, which deficits an individuals’ ability to process aspects of music. The topic of question being explored was if an inability to process characteristics of music would affect the ability to sight and comprehend “music-like” aspects of language. It was found that one of these patients was unable to discriminate sentences, based on intonation. This choice of wording refers to the pattern of rising and falling of pitch that can be distinguished
  • 6. Roberts 6 in language. Mankind has become able to distinguish from the rising pitch of a question and the falling pitch of the corresponding answer (Patel, Perez, Tramo, & Labreque 1998). As this similarity between music recognition and language comprehension is explored, it is important to look at where the brain is triggered and the level of neurological activity that occurs. Beginning with the idea of location within the brain, past research introduces what brain regions have been found to commonly home activity when recognizing and working with language. As the research being explored presents areas of neurological activity, the comparison, and overall similarities that come with the same active recognition and work with music is analyzed to look for similar types of responses at the neurological level of the human mind. Various findings from studies using fMRI show brain activation in the vicinity of Broca’s area (ventral part of the left frontal lobe) – long considered the locus of speech production. For instance, the presence of unexpected chords in music stimulates activity in Broca’s area (Koelsch, Gunter, Cramon, Zysset, Lohmann, & Frederici, 2002)…These findings support a newer view of Broca’s area and surrounding regions as being responsible for processing syntax, rules for ordering sequences in ways that are coherent to the perceiver, regardless of whether the rules obtain for musical or linguistic sequences (Tan, Pfordresher & Harre 2010).
  • 7. Roberts 7 As research has been done on this area of the brain, there is a trend towards seeing the Broca’s region of the brain to revolve around processing ordering sequences rather then the locus of speech production mentioned earlier in the block quotation. Tools such as fMRIs let psychologists and researchers find out more about the link that music has with other topics of neurological activity. The intensity of brain activity is something else that has been found to have reasoning behind music’s connection with other parts of modern living. As one is able to use fMRIs to find data on neurological activity, it is also possible to do the same with ERP technology. This technology stands for Event Related Potential, and records raw electrical activity within the brain known as EEG data. Researchers used this method to find data for neurological responses to both language and music. The research done with language focused on the word cry unexpectedly put into a sentence. The unexpected word choice triggers a level of brain activity that was measured at 400 ms on the EEG response. This data can be conclusive, but presents a larger finding when compared against an aspect of musical recognition. When exposed to a pitch that is out of key, and not expected by the listener, there is a similar EEG neurological response. Although the activity found is similar, the level of intensity was 600 ms rather than the 400 ms found with language. As individuals have looked into these findings of neuroscience, they have started to follow the trend of seeing language as a syntactic science rather than a semantic topic. This sees the neurological activity activated by language as a result of grammatical reasoning rather than that of both word choice and meaning. This is highlighted in the 1983 work of Lerdahl and Jackendoff when they stated that notes in music do
  • 8. Roberts 8 not refer to actions and events in the outside world but the structure of music does follow rules that can be considered grammatical. After understanding the activity and neuroscience that goes on in the brain as a result of music, it is appropriate to now focus back towards emotion. As the past few pages have connected the ideas of language and music, both pieces were spoken about as ways in which to express emotion. As mentioned earlier, emotion can be found to be a result of conscious and unconscious neurological thought and brain region activity. As music and language are used to express current emotion, it can also capture emotion found in the past. This is where we turn to the work of the well renowned Guilaume Dufay, a famous musical composer of the 1400s in Italy. Dufay is well known for his piece Nuper Rosarum Flores, which revolves around the dedication and beauty of the Florence cathedral. This composition is important and is talked about within this paper due to how it is a piece of music that presents examples of all the arguments mentioned throughout this paper, such as music having religious significance and a grammatical connection to language. This connection between the culture of Italy and the neuroscience of the mind will best be understood with an introduction of Dufay and his importance to the past and present of Italy in modern day. A well-known composition of Dufay’s was his dedication to the architecture that made up the Duomo residing in Florence, Italy. The architect was a man by the name of Brunelleschi, who won a competition announced on the nineteenth of August in 1419. Brunelleschi was awarded two hundred gold Florence (the currency during the time period), and used a ring and rib support system of two shells in his creation to let workers be able to sit on the
  • 9. Roberts 9 first shell while constructing the second. The Duomo, besides a few modifications to pieces of rotted wood, is still steady today. Once this historical masterpiece was complete, a new mission was announced to create a piece of music for the building’s dedication. This challenge was accepted by Dufay and completed on March twenty- fifth in 1436. Thanks to wool industry, the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, previously known as the Duomo di Firenze was constructed and became one of the largest churches in the world. The church used a large sum of timber from the forest and marble that had to be transported into the city. Aspects of the cathedral, such as the wealth and power presented by the buildings’ marble and the gothic style that was used by the building’s designer Arnolfo di Cambio, started to give the building an identity. Through its construction, the building’s identity became a very important part of the Florence community. The experience of the cathedral’s style, art, architecture, religious background, and historical significance now embodies a sum of emotion that Dufay sought to capture in his piece for the dedication mentioned prior. Although the history is important, let us revert back to the focal aspect of the music accompanying the magnificent architecture. As Dufay accepted this challenge explained above, he chose to compose a piece that captured the emotion behind the importance that the building has to the city. His piece was constructed in a manner that followed the same mathematical flow of the building, and used the art of measure and tempo to create an emotional response while at the same time illustrating the rediscovered ability to identify the world through scientific
  • 10. Roberts 10 achievement. While justifying the growth that has resulted from the past era of the Middle Ages, there was a musical narrative that corresponded with the ideals of a complex time period such as the renaissance. By creating a piece of music that embodied aspects of both counterpoint and polyphony at different portions of the piece to trigger a reaction from the audience, Dufay’s work became a symbolic piece of art. As Dufay composed Nuper Rosarum Flores he chose to present the ratios of the music in a way that has religious significance. This religious aspect of the piece is an example of two different topics being spoken about in this paper. The first deals with the ability for music to capture historical significance. As the music follows ratios that mirror the Temple of Solomon from the Bible, the piece has a significance to the religious past of the Florence individuals. The second argument that comes into play by the ratios of Nuper Rosarum Flores focuses on the connection that music has with language. As the music follows a specific set ratio, the composer creates a manner of flow and order that must be followed. This creation of musical order, and specific rule, mirrors the grammatical structure of language. As the composition presents counterpart and polyphony to create examples of texture, the piece is also composed in a manner that has religious significance and linguistic connection. This piece captured the emotional aspects of the renaissance era, and followed the grammatical aspects presented by the mathematical art of the music’s flow. Dufay used an artistic language to capture an emotion that is perceived by both past and present individual’s neurological thought. It is best said in Psychology of Music: From Sound to Significance;
  • 11. Roberts 11 Just as languages communicate common ideas with different words and syntax, so does music communicate similar ideas through different tonal and rhythmic structures. The profound significance of music and the immense joy that it has given people in all times and places is almost certainly the result of the power of music to reveal the intricacies and depths of human life (Tan, Pfordresher & Harre 2010). After researching this ideal, and reviewing an event in history that symbolizes it, it becomes evident that the human mind is constructed to have neurological responses that establish musical recognition as similar to linguistic-grammatical understanding. Both can be seen as tools to construct and capture cultures of time periods found in both the past and present day. Ultimately, it may be that music binds humanity together more effectively than does language, while at the same time acting as a vehicle for cultural diversity just like language does (Tan, Pfordresher & Harre 2010). References Blood, A. J., Zatorre, R. J., Bermudez, P., & Evans, A. C. (1999). Emotional responses to
  • 12. Roberts 12 pleasant and unpleasant music correlate with activity in paralimbic brain regions. Nature Neuroscience, 2, 382– 387. Cooke, D. (1959). The language of music. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Cooper, R. P., & Aslin, R. N. (1990). Preference for infant-directed speech in the first month after birth. Child Development, 61, 1584– 1594. Harré, Rom; Tan, Siu-Lan; Pfordresher, Peter (2010-03-31). Psychology of Music: From Sound to Significance . Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition. Koelsch, S., Kasper, E., Sammler, D., Schulze, K., Gunter, T., & Frederici, A. D. (2004). Music, language and meaning: Brain signatures of semantic processing. Nature Neuroscience, 7, 302– 307. Konecni, V. (2008). Does music induce emotion? A theoretical and methodological analysis. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity and the Arts, 2, 115– 129. Langer, S. K. (1942). Philosophy in a new key. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Lerdahl, F., & Jackendoff, R. (1983). A generative theory of tonal music. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Lerdahl, F., & Jackendoff, R. (1983– 84). An overview of hierarchical structure in music. Music Perception, 1, 229– 252. Levitin, D. J. (2008). The world in six songs: How the musical brain created human nature. New York: Dutton. Mitterschiffthaler, M. T., Fu, C. H. Y., Dalton, J. A., Andrew, C. M., & Williams S. C. R. (2007). A functional MRI study of happy and sad affective states induced by classical music. Human Brain Mapping, 28, 1150– 1162.
  • 13. Roberts 13 Patel, A. D., Peretz, I., Tramo, M. & Labreque, R. (1998). Processing prosodic and musical patterns: A neuropsychological investigation. Brain and Language, 61, 123– 144.