FAU Logo Music is known to arouse emotions and the same is true for some musical performances. Well there seems to be a link between music and emotional stimuli. Experts from the Florida Atlantic University claim to have laid hands on key aspects of musical performance that cause emotion-related brain activity. Also the probable way nuances work in the brain was demonstrated.

The study was conducted to shown how musical performances charge up the brain’s emotional centers. The findings may pave way for new ways of studying responses to music and other emotional stimuli. An expert musician’s expressive performance of Frédéric Chopin’s Étude in E- Major, Op. 10, No. 3 was recorded on a computerized piano. It was then synthesized to a version of the same piece using a computer, without the human performance nuances. Both versions had the same musical elements melody, harmony, rhythm, average tempo and loudness and were recorded on the same piano.

The expressive performance probably included dynamic changes in tempo and loudness, the performance variations that pianists use to evoke emotional responses. Throughout the study, experts utilized participants with an affinity for music. Behavioral analysis was combined with fMRI neuroimaging that reportedly measures change in blood flow associated to neural activity in the brain. Volunteers listened to both performances and were made to register their emotional responses in real-time using specialized computer software.

Edward Large, Ph.D., the study’s principal investigator, alleged, “Our experienced listeners were not professional musicians, but did have experiences performing music, such as singing in a choir or playing in a band. The fMRI data suggests that experienced listeners get a greater charge out of the music, although we can’t say from this data whether the increased neural activation is due to their experience or whether these individuals seek out musical experiences because they derive greater pleasure from music.”

Immediately after providing their emotion ratings, they were placed in the fMRI and instructed to lie motionless in the scanner with their eyes closed and asked to listen to both versions of the music without reporting their emotional response. Instantaneous fMRI seemingly enabled scientists to evaluate the emotion rating assignment again. The three steps ensured consistency of the emotions subjects reported in the behavioral study with the results of the fMRI. The analysis of brain activity presumably compared responses of the expressive performance with those in the mechanical performance. Also responses of experienced listeners were compared with those of inexperienced listeners.

The tempo changes of the performance were compared to the brain activations of listeners in real-time. It was concluded that human touch of an expressive performance by a skilled pianist evokes emotion and reward related neural activity. Musically experienced listeners possibly have increased activity in the emotion and reward centers of the brain. Neural activations supposedly took place in the motor networks of the brain that empowers an individual to follow the beat of the music and in the brain’s mirror neuron system. The human mirror neuron system may play a fundamental role in understanding as well as imitating action.

The study is published in the December 16 issue of PLoS One.