Music-Induced Emotions Can Be Predicted From Brain Scans

Summary: Based on the activity in the auditory cortex and motor cortex, researchers were able to predict whether a participant was listening to music that was upbeat or sad.

Source: University of Turku

Researchers at the University of Turku have discovered what type of neural mechanisms are the basis for emotional responses to music. Altogether 102 research subjects listened to music that evokes emotions while their brain function was scanned with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). The study was carried out in the national PET Centre.

The researchers used a machine learning algorithm to map which brain regions are activated when the different music-induced emotions are separated from each other.

“Based on the activation of the auditory and motor cortex, we were able to accurately predict whether the research subject was listening to happy or sad music. The auditory cortex processes the acoustic elements of music, such as rhythm and melody. Activation of the motor cortex, then again, may be related to the fact that music inspires feelings of movement in the listeners even when they are listening to music while holding still in an MRI machine,” says Postdoctoral Researcher Vesa Putkinen.

The researchers also discovered which brain regions are activated when the research participants watched videos that evoke strong emotions, and tested whether the same regions were activated when the participants were listening to music that evokes emotions.

The results suggest that the emotions evoked by films and music are partially based on the operation of different mechanisms in the brain.

This shows a brain made up of music notes
The results suggest that the emotions evoked by films and music are partially based on the operation of different mechanisms in the brain. Image is in the public domain

Films, for instance, activate the deeper parts of the brain that regulate emotions in real-life situations. Listening to music did not strongly activate these regions nor did their activation separate the music-induced emotions from each other. This may be due to the fact that films can more realistically copy the real-life events that evoke emotions and thus activate the innate emotion mechanisms. As for the music-induced emotions, they are based on the acoustic characteristics of music and coloured by cultural influences and personal history.

Traditionally, music-induced emotions have been studied through classical instrumental music.

“We wanted to use only instrumental music in this study as well, so that lyrics did not impact the emotions of the research subjects. However, we included film music and songs by the guitar virtuoso Yngwie J. Malmsteen,” notes Putkinen.

About this music and neuroscience research news

Source: University of Turku
Contact: Vesa Putkinen – University of Turku
Image: The image is in the public domain

Original Research: Closed access.
Decoding Music-Evoked Emotions in the Auditory and Motor Cortex” by Vesa Putkinen et al. Cerebral Cortex


Decoding Music-Evoked Emotions in the Auditory and Motor Cortex

Music can induce strong subjective experience of emotions, but it is debated whether these responses engage the same neural circuits as emotions elicited by biologically significant events. We examined the functional neural basis of music-induced emotions in a large sample (n = 102) of subjects who listened to emotionally engaging (happy, sad, fearful, and tender) pieces of instrumental music while their hemodynamic brain activity was measured with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Ratings of the four categorical emotions and liking were used to predict hemodynamic responses in general linear model (GLM) analysis of the fMRI data. Multivariate pattern analysis (MVPA) was used to reveal discrete neural signatures of the four categories of music-induced emotions. To map neural circuits governing non-musical emotions, the subjects were scanned while viewing short emotionally evocative film clips. The GLM revealed that most emotions were associated with activity in the auditory, somatosensory, and motor cortices, cingulate gyrus, insula, and precuneus. Fear and liking also engaged the amygdala. In contrast, the film clips strongly activated limbic and cortical regions implicated in emotional processing. MVPA revealed that activity in the auditory cortex and primary motor cortices reliably discriminated the emotion categories. Our results indicate that different music-induced basic emotions have distinct representations in regions supporting auditory processing, motor control, and interoception but do not strongly rely on limbic and medial prefrontal regions critical for emotions with survival value.

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