How would the brain process alien music?

Source: Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences

Summary: What might alien music sound like? Would it be structured hierarchically as our music is with verses and a chorus? Would we even be able to appreciate it? Researchers think the answer would be yes, assuming it was predicated on local and non-local dependencies.

Broca’s area, restricted to the left hemisphere, is centrally involved in language processing. Now, scientists at MPI CBS have learned that the equivalent area, in the right hemisphere (red), plays a similar role but for the processing of music. More specifically, it’s activated when we notice violations of musical grammar. The areas in blue are typically associated with working memory and show increased brain activity when the grammar gets longer and more complicated (A – anterior, P – posterior).
Credit: © Scientific Reports

What might alien music sound like? Would it be structured hierarchically as our music is with verses and a chorus? Would we even be able to appreciate it? Vincent Cheung, a doctoral student at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, thinks the answer would be yes, assuming it was predicated on local and non-local dependencies. His research published this week in Scientific Reports explains what exactly that means.

Vincent Cheung, along with Angela Friederici, Stefan Koelsch, and Lars Meyer, has been investigating non-local dependencies in music and trying to determine how the human brain processes them. In language and music, dependencies are conceptual threads that bind two things together. Non-local dependencies bind non-adjacent items. For example, in pop music, the second instance of a verse, following a chorus, would have a non-local dependency with the first instance of the verse. Experientially, it is clear to us that we are hearing a sequence that we have heard before. According to Cheung, composers use such devices to build up our expectations and elicit strong emotional responses to the music. But how does the brain recognize these patterns and what does this have to do with Paul Broca?

Paul Broca was a famous French physician and anatomist whose work with aphasic patients in the 1800s led to the discovery of Broca’s area; a small patch of the cerebral cortex just above the temple, specifically on the left side of the brain. Broca’s area is critical for speech production and for the processing of, you guessed it, dependencies in language. For example, Broca’s area is active when we detect violations to our well-learned grammatical rules. Surprisingly, despite Broca’s area being one of the most studied human brain regions, neuroscientists are still not exactly sure what the same region does, on the other side of the brain.

Please see more information

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Previous post $10m prize to let you feel what a distant robot is feeling
Next post Blind Mice See Again With Gold and Titanium