Friday, November 28, 2008

Neuroscience of Music and Emotion

Kreutz, G. & Lotze, M. (2008). Neuroscience of Music and Emotion.
In W. Gruhn and F.H. Rauscher (Eds) Neurosciences in Music Pedagogy. (145-169)

Andrea Botticelli

This chapter in Neurosciences and Music Pedagogy connects emotion in music with neural correlates in the brain. It is a comprehensive review of all the music and emotion research to date, including structural mapping of emotional valence and arousal “centres” as well as functional hypotheses concerning musical emotion and performance. Here are some fascinating points:

  1. As opposed to the perceptual processing of music, the timeframe for the recognition of emotions happens so quickly that they are considered reflexes (146).
  2. Emotional responses to music should be similar to emotional responses in vision and speech (147).
  3. Emotions play a major role in modulating human learning processes (147).

Research has shown that there is a substantial overlap in the neural structures involved in cognition and emotion (150). Consequently, in the current literature emotion is now viewed as intrinsic to music processing. Emotions are normally grouped into two dimensions: valence (positive or negative) and arousal (low to high). The psychological literature distinguishes between a small number of basic emotions: fear, anger, disgust, happiness, surprise, sadness (149).

Music performance is one of the most complex areas of human engagement (160). Making music must be associated with high levels of motivation and reward to sustain a lifetime commitment for professionals and amateurs. Music can also elicit the emotional response known in social psychology as “flow”. Finally, emotional brain responses to music are mediated by individual differences and situational contexts.

Why do some respond so naturally to musical communication while others do not? What are they responding to? I found it very interesting to learn that emotional responses are considered as reflexes. Similarly, I believe that someone who is “musical” has very quick musical reflexes – immediate sensitivity to nuance, innate understanding of the character of rhythm and its changes. As musicians, our musical reflexes must be strong and highly developed. I feel that music is a moving, emotional experience, but the mechanism of communication is very complex and non-linear. Emotions have a sonic language that can be deciphered through cultural norms and learned expectations, or in the tension and resolution of the music itself.

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