Live music, that’s why it excites us so much: it touches different areas of the brain

Live music, that’s why it excites us so much: it touches different areas of the brain


OfDanilo di Diodorus

Swiss scholars have evaluated the effect on the amygdala, a brain formation strongly connected to emotional experiences and which within it has various nuclei with differentiated functions

The intense emotional experience felt by those who participate in a live concert has a precise confirmation at brain level: the results of a study carried out by a group of neurobiologists indicate that immersion in live music elicits a kind of equally lively concert in emotional neural networks. A phenomenon that is not recorded when listening to previously recorded music. What generates this intense emotional experience is the dynamic relationship that is established between the artist and the spectatorswhose affective areas of the brain are highly stimulated.

The brain areas involved

The study, carried out by Swiss and Norwegian researchers and published in the journal PNASinvolved twenty-seven people who were exposed to musical pieces recorded or performed live, characterized by a positive or negative emotional tone. The pianists who performed the pieces live had been trained to vary the emotional intensity of their performance. During the listening experience, the subjects underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging, a technique that allowed the involvement of different brain areas to be assessed. In particular it was evaluated the effect of music on the amygdala, a small brain formation strongly connected to emotional experiences and which inside has different nuclei with differentiated functions.

The effects of music

«In our study all peaks of amygdala activity were detected in the laterobasal nucleusthe one that typically integrates and emotionally evaluates the information coming from sensory cerebral cortex, especially that which is part of the auditory system – say the authors of the study, coordinated by Sascha Frühholz of the University of Zurich in Switzerland -. Live music elicited significantly higher activity not only in the listeners’ amygdala, but also in a larger neural network which is essential for the processing of emotions generated by music, and which includes the hippocampusa structure capable of generating memories of previous musical experiences and of participating in aesthetic evaluations.”

Emotional drag

Listening to live music involved, much more than recorded music, even further brain structures, such as the ventral striatum that has to do with pleasure and the auditory cerebral cortexwhich participates in the integration of emotional information, in addition to right lateral frontal cortex responsible for the emotional evaluation of sounds. «Live music is acoustically different from recorded music and is the only one that can lead to a full coupling between musical performances and emotional responses in listeners – conclude the authors of the research -. A fundamental mechanism for the definition of music as a specific phenomenon of emotional entrainment.”

March 19, 2024

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