Author Archives: Riley Payne

Feel the Music

Hello everyone, one last time! I can’t believe my time studying here in Paris is coming to a close already. It feels like I just arrived and now I only have one day of class left. This whole trip has been such an amazing experience, and I had the opportunity to see so many parts of this beautiful city! One of my recent experiences was Fête de la Musique, which was one of my favorite days here in Paris. Fête de la Musique is a city wide festival where anyone and everyone can play music on the streets of Paris. Walking around for 6 hours, I had the chance to hear many people share their music with the city. It was even more exciting when I found a band or individual playing a song that I recognized! One band played Stand by Me by Ben E. King and later I got to hear Wonderwall by Green Day.

Two men playing Stand by Me by Ben E. King on the streets of Paris

Another recent experience involving music was our class excursion to an exhibit at the Philharmonie de Paris. The exhibit called Exposition Electro was about electronic dance music, including history of the music and interactive pieces relating to the music. It was such an interesting exhibit. I really found my place in a back room that allowed you to make different beats with percussion instruments (I used to play percussion, so I spent a good chunk of my time in this room)

The Percussion room in the exhibition. You could make the instruments play on different beats to create your own music.

One of the most fascinating parts of the exhibit however was an image with a quote on a wall, rather than a musical piece. The quote read “Can a song without words say anything?” After seeing this quote, I started to really think about the way in which music impacts us. I contemplated the way I feel when I listen to music I love, or how I felt in the percussion room. Then, during Fête de la Musique I thought about how everyone in the city was spending a night enjoying and being immersed in music. To answer the question posed by the wall, I believe that the underlying emotion I, and many others, feel towards music allows us to connect to a song even without any words or explicit meaning. But, why is it that we can extract meaning and emotion out of music?

Our auditory cortex is the brain region where all sound information is processed (Purves et al., 2001). The information we hear from our ear is transmitted to the auditory cortex in the temporal lobe of the brain, which is found near your temples. The auditory cortex takes the noise we hear and converts it into sounds that we can understand (Purves et al., 2001).

Location of the auditory cortex

Now, just because we can comprehend the sounds and words being said to us, that doesn’t automatically mean we feel emotion towards it. This emotion comes from a connection to different parts of the brain. One study by Koelsch and colleagues (2005) used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), a measurement of brain activity based on blood flow to those areas, in order to determine the activity of both the auditory cortex and possibly other brain regions. fMRI was taken during the presentation of both pleasant and unpleasant music. The study found that unpleasant music activated brain regions known to be important for negative emotional processing along with the auditory cortex. The study also found that pleasant music activated a structure called the insula (Koelsch et al., 2005), which has been seen to be important for overall emotional processing (Phan et al., 2002).

Another study done by Koelsch and colleagues (2018) expanded on the knowledge of the 2005 study. The newer study also used fMRI to see activation of brain regions during music that should evoke joy or fear. The authors found that there was actually emotional processing within the auditory cortex, as well as connectivity with other emotion related areas. For example, there was a high connectivity with the limbic system (Koelsch et al., 2018). The limbic system includes structures such as the hypothalamus (important for controlling hormones in the body), the thalamus (processes different information from our senses), the amygdala (important for emotional memory, especially fear), and the hippocampus (important for personal memories). The limbic system is known for being important to emotional responses, and having the body respond accordingly by hormone release, changing breathing levels and heart rate, in order for a person to feel the emotion (Rajmohan and Mohandas, 2007).

Brain structures and location of the Limbic System

The conclusion in both of these studies is that there is high connectivity between the auditory cortex and emotional areas. There is always a level of uncertainty when using fMRI. Since fMRI measures blood flow to a brain area, the image doesn’t necessarily show us the activity of the neurons in that brain region. Therefore, future studies could look more directly at the role of specific structures involved in emotion in music. For example, if a structure important for emotion is damaged, does that change our ability to emotionally respond to music? However, overall these data point towards a strong connection between sound processing and emotional processing, which helps explain our emotional connection to music.

Music has always been a really important part of my life, and I am so glad I had the opportunity to interact with some musical parts of Paris. To me, it is so fascinating that random notes and sounds can make us feel so many different emotions. With and without words, music has the ability to affect our lives profoundly.






Koelsch, S., Fritz, T., Cramon, D. Y., Müller, K., & Friederici, A. D. (2005). Investigating emotion with music: An fMRI study. Human Brain Mapping,27(3), 239-250.

Koelsch, S., Skouras, S., & Lohmann, G. (2018). The auditory cortex hosts network nodes influential for emotion processing: An fMRI study on music-evoked fear and joy. Plos One,13(1).

Phan, K., Wager, T., Taylor, S. F., & Liberzon, I. (2002). Functional Neuroanatomy of Emotion: A Meta-Analysis of Emotion Activation Studies in PET and fMRI. NeuroImage,16(2), 331-348.

Purves D, Augustine GJ, Fitzpatrick D, et al., editors. Neuroscience. 2nd edition. Sunderland (MA): Sinauer Associates; 2001. The Auditory Cortex.

Rajmohan, V., & Mohandas, E. (2007). The limbic system. Indian Journal of Psychiatry,49(2), 132.


Image 1-3: Taken by me

Image 4:

Purves D, Augustine GJ, Fitzpatrick D, et al., editors. Neuroscience. 2nd edition. Sunderland (MA): Sinauer Associates; 2001. The Auditory Cortex.

Image 5:

Limbic System. (2017, June 07). Retrieved from

(Motion) Sick Ride, Dude


Bonjour tout le monde! (Hello everyone!) I am writing this blog post on the train to Amsterdam. I absolutely love how easy it is to travel throughout Europe. There are so many cities in other parts of France and different countries that are just a short train ride away. For the most part, it is also pretty affordable! So far I have been to Brussels, south France, and now I am heading to Amsterdam.

A view from the train on the way to Amsterdam

Hi again everyone. Now I am writing from Amsterdam. I started to write on the train as you see above, but got motion sick within the first few minutes. So, I stopped and this is my second attempt at writing (not on public transportation). I attribute the very quick on-set of motion sickness to looking out the window at the beautiful scenery, while still trying to type on my computer. In hindsight, that was probably not a great idea. Although it gave me an idea of what to write about for this post! As much as I love the ability to travel by train, I have noticed that I have to be really careful to avoid motion sickness.

Buildings on a canal in Amsterdam

Motion sickness includes symptoms such as dizziness, nausea, tiredness, sweating and headaches (“Motion Sickness”, 2014) But what is the cause of motion sickness? There is a region thought to be connected to motion sickness called the vestibular system (Oman, 1990). The vestibular system is found within your inner ear, and is involved in unconscious perception of head motion. It also is important for orienting yourself in space and navigating your environment (Angelaki and Cullen, 2008).

The Vestibular System within the ear, it is located right above the structures involved in hearing.

The dominating theory for the cause of motion sickness, sensory conflict theory, states that information from the vestibular system and information from our eyes conflict with each other (Warwick-Evans et al., 1998). For example, on the train my vestibular system assumed I was not moving because I was sitting still, but my eyes saw that the landscape was moving. Warick-Evans and colleagues tested this theory by using two levels of conflicting information and then measuring the level of motion sickness. They found that when there is more conflict between the apparent motion of our head and the apparent motion our eyes are seeing, then there is a greater degree of motion sickness (Warwick-Evans et al., 1998). So, when my vestibular sense tells me I am still, but my vision says I am moving, my brain can’t reconcile the information.

Your eye and vestibular system give conflicting information to your brain, leading to motion sickness.

More recent studies have expanded on sensory conflict theory, adding to our understanding of how motion sickness is caused. One study by Tal and colleagues (2014) tested whether motion sickness could be due to the unfamiliar patterns of motion we are experiencing. In other words, our brain knows which visual information for motion matches with vestibular information from past experiences. The brain then compares new motion experiences to that information. If the new information doesn’t match the old experience, it leads to motion sickness (Tal et al., 2014). This supports sensory conflict, since our brain understands that the visual and vestibular information do not match. But it also adds an extra component: our previous experiences allows us to recognize the conflict. This is supported by the fact that the hippocampus, a region in the brain important for memory (including spatial memory), was found to be important in processing sensory conflict information. (Zhang et al., 2016). This supports that our memory of different spatial orientations or visual information impacts the response to sensory conflict, leading to motion sickness.

One issue with these studies is that motion sickness is currently only measured by a questionnaire. People are giving subjective responses on how bad their motion sickness is. With subjective responses, it is difficult to guarantee that people will consistently respond on the same scale as each other. One person may rank their motion sickness as much worse than another, even though they are having very similar symptoms. Something that could be done in future research could be physiological tests (possibly looking at balance and sweat levels) to see if the body is actually responding with symptoms of motion sickness.

The Motion Sickness Susceptibility Questionnaire, used in both Tal et Al. and Warnick-Evans et. Al studies.

Unfortunately, my motion sickness happens on the train, the metro and even sometimes in the car. Although, I don’t seem to notice it as much when I am in a plane or on a spinning ride in a park. There is a lot more I would be interested in knowing about motion sickness. Are some modes of transportation or movement more likely to induce motion sickness? Why do I get more sick when I am directly in the sun and not so much when there is sufficient AC? Also, there is little research on why some people are more susceptible to motion sickness than others.

I would love to see more research done on all of these topics. But for now, I will work on not overloading my senses in order to avoid feeling sick. But you can bet I will keep traveling either way. Motion sickness can’t stop me!






Angelaki, D. E., & Cullen, K. E. (2008). Vestibular System: The Many Facets of a Multimodal Sense. Annual Review of Neuroscience,31(1), 125-150.

Motion sickness. (2014, November 30). Retrieved from

Oman, C. M. (1990). Motion sickness: A synthesis and evaluation of the sensory conflict theory. Canadian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology,68(2), 294-303.

Tal, D., Wiener, G., & Shupak, A. (2014). Mal de debarquement, motion sickness and the effect of an artificial horizon. Journal of Vestibular Research,23, 17-23.

Warwick-Evans, L., Symons, N., Fitch, T., & Burrows, L. (1998). Evaluating sensory conflict and postural instability. theories of motion sickness. Brain Research Bulletin,47(5), 465-469.

Zhang, L., Wang, J., Qi, R., Pan, L., Li, M., & Cai, Y. (2016). Motion Sickness: Current Knowledge and Recent Advance. CNS Neuroscience & Therapeutics,22(1), 15-24.

Image 1 and 2: My own images

Image 3:

How our Vestibular System works and why this is important for learning. (2019, April 04). Retrieved from

Image 4:

Horsky, J. (2017, December 14). Understanding VR sickness. Retrieved from

Image 5:

Golding, J., Gresty, M., & Bronstein, A. (2013). Vertigo and Dizziness from Environmental Motion: Visual Vertigo, Motion Sickness, and Drivers Disorientation. Seminars in Neurology,33(03), 219-230.

Where’s the AC?

Hi everyone! We finished our second full week in France, and are on to our third. The time is flying by! I am really enjoying my time here, and am learning a lot in the two classes we are taking. In our Arts on the Brain course, we talked a bit about varying perceptual experiences. Specifically, we started by talking about how our perception of the color of the sky can be different depending on the time of day and the experiences we have had. This discussion shows that perceptual experiences are not the same from person to person.

A picture of the Paris sky at sunset (Martinez et al., 2017)

I had a conversation with someone about the temperature in Avignon, where we travelled to this weekend. They were freezing, while I was enjoying the beautiful breeze. The 65-70 degree weather with a breeze was absolutely beautiful to me. However, the 85 degrees during the day was much too hot. This conversation combined with my recent interest in differing perception, and adding in the fact that French people don’t love air conditioning, lead me to start wondering about the ways in which people may perceive temperature differently. Similar to our different perception of the color of the sky, do we differ in our perception of temperature as well?

View of Avignon, France from the Palais de Papes

I realize that many people say that people from the north are better at handling the cold. And obviously, the French are better at handling the heat than I am (I miss the AC!). Why are some people more comfortable in different temperatures?

Thermoreceptors are what allow us to detect temperature. These allow us to sense and then respond to the temperature stimuli (Zhang, 2015). Temperature acclimatization is defined as the process in which a person becomes adjusted to their environment’s temperature, through physiological changes (Acclimatization, 2019). This acclimatization would explain people’s differing perceptions of temperatures.

Sensors within the skin, including a thermoreceptor (Pain is Only Skin Deep, 2016)

When someone who is in a cold environment for a short amount of time, the response is to shiver in order to conserve heat. However, when someone has been in a cold environment for a longer period of time, or a chronic cold environment, then the response to regulate heat changes (Castellani and Young, 2016). Eventually shivering decreases, but heat production remains the same.  This is due to brown adipose tissue in the body (Lans et al., 2013). However, this isn’t due to an increase in brown adipose tissue, but instead an increase in non-shivering thermogenesis, or heat production, within the existing tissue (Vosselman et al., 2014). This shows that there are physiological changes in our body when we are exposed to different climates. Non-shivering heat production is increased in people who are in cold environments more often.

It was really interesting to see these changes, but I would say there is research I would be interested to see within this topic. For example, I would be interested to see if there is a change at the neuronal level, such as within the thermoreceptor. Also, is the activation in the brain of people acclimated to the cold different from those who aren’t? Also, I would be interested to know if there is a change for hotter climates, or if it just the decrease of non-shivering thermogenesis. I couldn’t find any research on this, but if any of my readers have heard about this, let me know in the comments!

It is really interesting to know that we have different physiological changes that allow us to be more acclimated to certain climates. Our differing perceptions of the world is so fascinating across all of our senses. This new information might help explain why there is no AC here, so for now I will just enjoy the 65-degree weather when I have the chance and hope I acclimate to warmer weather eventually!






Works Cited:

Acclimatization (adjusting to the temperature). (2019, January 11). Retrieved from

Castellani, J., & Young, A. (2016). Human physiological responses to cold exposure: Acute responses and acclimatization to prolonged exposure. Autonomic Neuroscience: Basic and Clinical,196, 63-74.

Lans, A. A., Hoeks, J., Brans, B., Vijgen, G. H., Visser, M. G., Vosselman, M. J., . . . Lichtenbelt, W. D. (2013). Cold acclimation recruits human brown fat and increases nonshivering thermogenesis. Journal of Clinical Investigation,123(8), 3395-3403. doi:10.1172/jci68993

Vosselman, M. J., Vijgen, G. H., Kingma, B. R., Brans, B., & Lichtenbelt, W. D. (2014). Frequent Extreme Cold Exposure and Brown Fat and Cold-Induced Thermogenesis: A Study in a Monozygotic Twin. PLoS ONE,9(7). doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0101653

Zhang, X. (2015). Molecular sensors and modulators of thermoreception. Channels,9(2), 73-81.


Image 1: Martinez, E., Emily, Meghan, Cynthia, Aubrie, Emily, . . . Desert Safari. (2017, January 06). The 5 Best Sunset Spots in Paris. Retrieved from

Image 2: My own photo

Image 3: Pain is only skin deep. (2016, February 22). Retrieved from



Name that Painting

Bonjour from France! I am so excited to be posting my first blog here in Paris. I have had such an amazing first week and a half. This city is so beautiful and has so much to offer. One of the parts of Paris I was so excited for before coming here was the art. Paris is known for its beautiful art and amazing museums. One of my favorite artists is Van Gogh (cliché, I know. But his paintings are beautiful). So you can imagine my excitement when we had the opportunity to go as a group to the L’Atelier des Lumières. This is a beautiful experience where art is projected onto the walls of the room, with background music and movement as opposed to the normal still painting. One of the exhibits is called Van Gogh Starry Night, and it includes many of his different paintings come to life before your eyes.

The Olive Trees by Van Gogh at L’Atelier des Lumières

One of the things that has always fascinated me most about Van Gogh’s paintings, and post-impressionist paintings in general, is the ability for us to recognize the scene even though it is never perfectly clear. I realized this is an amazing task that our mind is able to achieve through object recognition. Object recognition is just what it sounds like, but the mechanisms supporting it are very complicated, interesting, and intricate. Object recognition calls on many regions including the visual cortex as well as many structures in the temporal lobe of the brain (Bar et al., 2001). Object recognition calls on bottom-down processing, which is a process in which we receive visual information and then call on higher processes to understand the full picture. However, it has also been observed that top-down processing is more important than previously realized. Top-down processing is when higher functions, or previously stored information, affects the perception we are creating. For example, our memory can have an effect. Our brain takes information from our memory system to fully fill in the details of the image we are looking at (Bar et al., 2007). This may explain why I could recognize which painting was being displayed in the exhibit even before it was fully in my view.

Only Part of Starry Night shown at L’atelier des Lumières

Along with this, partially analyzed images or incomplete images can be recognized before all of the information is received (Bar, 2003). This is why even when an object in a Van Gogh painting isn’t blurry or not the full picture, we can still recognize the scene in front of us.

Wheatfield with Crows by Van Gogh. The image is blurry and a bit unclear, but you can still tell what it is.

Another fascinating thing about object recognition is the emotion we feel when viewing certain objects. I am sure everyone has an experience with art that has made them feel some sort of emotion, as I did at the L’Ateliers exhibit. Before studying this topic, I would assume that the emotion we feel comes after we are able to detect an object. However, there are multiple studies that now say our emotions can actually affect our final perception of an object. One study says that our prediction of an object includes its relevance and value, before we are consciously aware of the object we are observing (Barret and Bar, 2009). Another study expanded on this, looking at our emotional perception of faces and the way it can be influenced without our knowledge. If a happy or negative face is shown quickly and not entering consciousness, then we will perceive a neutral face shown directly after as having more emotion (Siegel et al., 2018).

This was very interesting to me, because it means the context or environment around us, or even the mood that we are in, may completely change our perception of an object. The feeling that I perceive when looking at Van Gogh’s Starry Night will be different than someone else’s. Also, as stated above, our different memories and experience could change the way in which we perceive the painting as well.

It is amazing what our brain is able to accomplish. Not only are we able to recognize objects before we have the entire picture, but our emotional processing of that object starts very early on in the process as well.  This is just part of the reason Van Gogh’s painting have always amazed me. He has the ability to create a scene that isn’t quite right, but we know what it is showing anyway. He is able to let your mind fill in the rest of the details. Not only this, but each perception of his paintings are completely different based off our own experience. I know my personal experience leads to a beautiful painting with lots of emotion.

Self Portrait by Van Gogh shown at L’Atelier des Lumières



Works Cited

Bar, M., Tootell, R. B., Schacter, D. L., Greve, D. N., Fischl, B., Mendola, J. D., . . . Dale, A. M. (2001). Cortical Mechanisms Specific to Explicit Visual Object Recognition. Neuron,29(2), 529-535. doi:10.1016/s0896-6273(01)00224-0

Bar, M. (2003). A cortical mechanism for triggering top-down facilitation in visual object recognition. J Cognitive Neuroscience,15, 600-609.

Bar, M. (2007). The proactive brain: Using analogies and associations to generate predictions. Trends in Cognitive Sciences,11(9), 372. doi:10.1016/j.tics.2007.08.004

Barrett, L. F., & Bar, M. (2009). See it with feeling: affective predictions during object perception. Philosophical transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological sciences364(1521), 1325–1334. doi:10.1098/rstb.2008.0312

Siegel, E. H., Wormwood, J. B., Quigley, K. S., & Barrett, L. F. (2018). Seeing What You Feel: Affect Drives Visual Perception of Structurally Neutral Faces. Psychological science29(4), 496–503. doi:10.1177/0956797617741718

Image 1,2 and 4-  my own images

Image 3: Wheatfield with Crows – Van Gogh Museum. (n.d.). Retrieved from