Tag Archives: music

Can You Feel the Music Tonight?

The Rite of Spring, a ballet and orchestral assemble created by Igor Stravinsky, elicited such a strong reaction from the people who witness it; riots and fights broke out all over the concert hall from experiencing a piece of art that we now revere in modern culture. I had the completely opposite experience at Fete de la Musique in which various musical performances of numerous genres were given a microphone and a setting for everyone to enjoy. From electronic to Caribbean music, there was no telling what would arise around the corner; I loved just walking and exploring the area with surprises at any time.

First performance of the Rite of Spring in 20th century

When thinking about music broadly cannot blame the concertgoers for having such a strong reaction to the music. Music, in the ways it has manifested in my life, has been the break point for some my biggest breakthroughs in learning more about myself. In addition to kickstarting some revelations about myself, music has also helped me calm down, stay focused, and relive emotions that I once forgotten about until I listen to a song again.

Music is an amazing trigger for latent memories that we often forget about. As soon as we hear just the beat of a song, we can pinpoint a feeling or a moment that a song defined for us. One study found that music caused participants to indicate a higher rating of joy and strength where memory induction leaded to a higher correlation between the emotion and the music they listened to (Maksimainen et al., 2018). This makes sense though; the amount of music we encounter on a daily basis is massive, whether self-induced or not, and plays a large role in our life. And as a big part of our lives, they will connect to our various scenarios and emotions as we experience them.

Here are a few of my own examples. “Energy” by Drake will forever remind me of when I first felt like my first-year group of college friends started feeling like family. The entire ABBA “Gold” album reminds me of my mom without fail and how she just comes alive with the right type of music. And now, “Love on the Brain” by Rihanna will forever remind me of Paris and a sense of camaraderie I felt with my study aboard group while we walked along the Seine during the Fete de la Musique.

A drumming band that was absolutely amazing during Fete de la Musique

It made me wonder how we associate such pleasant experiences in our lives with something as arbitrary as music; a song that reminds me of a great experience could trigger a huge negative response in another person. What brain system are present that leads to difference from person to person and modulate a negative, neutral, or positive association?

A 2019 study found that dopamine plays a role in the positive responses we feel when we listen to music (Ferreri et al., 2019). The researchers took 27 participants in which they listened to 5 self-selected and 10 experimenter-selected musical excerpts before taking a dopamine agonist, dopamine antagonist, or a placebo pill with each pill administration separated by a week. After each administration, the researchers measured the pleasure response by looking at amplitude changes in electrodermal activity (EDA) and qualitative pleasurable experience ratings taken after every song. Electrodermal activity (EDA) is created by the sweat glands and the associated epidermis (“Electrodermal Activity,” n.d.) often used in behavioral medicine as a measure of emotional responsiveness (Critchley & Nagai, 2013). Participants who regularly experience chills when listening to music had a higher number of reported chills after dopamine agonist administration compared to dopamine antagonist administration as well as a higher EDA change under the dopamine agonist that was significantly different compared to the dopamine antagonist administration when experiencing pleasurable music. The amplitude of EDA did not change while the participants were listening to any random type of music. There was only a change in dopamine modulation when the participants were listening to self-reported pleasurable music supporting the researchers’ hypothesis that dopamine has a specific effect how we respond to pleasurable music (Ferreri et al., 2019).

Figure showing a higher liking ratings and pleasure EDA after dopamine agonist (levodopa) administration compared to dopamine antagonist administration (risperidone).

There were many pluses with the Ferreri et al. study, but there were some aspects that would have helped me align with their conclusions more. I would want the research to explain the validity of electrodermal activity as opposed to using other physiological changes such as heart rate or blood pressure as well as brain imaging to make sure there is activation in the mesolimbic system and not anything else. However, the authors set up their experience design thoroughly by covering various types of dopamine effects on the brain to make sure they have comparable results to see if dopamine levels can modulate could have a role in the pleasurable experiences we have with music; they were thorough in setting up the experiment for the research question. Their thoughts on defining what exactly “pleasurable” means is also fascinating because pleasure is so subjective so the fact is a big plus in how thorough the researcher were in determining how we perceive what we personally hear as pleasurable music.

Nevertheless, the study strongly suggests that pleasurable emotions we associate with music could have a relationship with the rewarding effects of dopamine. This is why relistening to reminds us of good feelings and scenarios we previously had.  The possible of the opposite happening with the Rite of Spring is plausible, but the take home message from the riot starting symphony to the soothing ballad along the Seine is clear. Music has the ability to bubble emotions to the surface in such a way that all you can do is lean into it and let it take over.


Critchley, H., & Nagai, Y. (2013). Electrodermal Activity (EDA). Encyclopedia of Behavioral Medicine, 666–669. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4419-1005-9_13

Did The Rite of Spring really spark a riot? – BBC News. (n.d.). Retrieved June 27, 2019, from https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-22691267

Electrodermal Activity – an overview | ScienceDirect Topics. (n.d.). Retrieved June 27, 2019, from https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/medicine-and-dentistry/electrodermal-activity

Ferreri, L., Mas-Herrero, E., Zatorre, R. J., Ripollés, P., Gomez-Andres, A., Alicart, H., … Rodriguez-Fornells, A. (2019). Dopamine modulates the reward experiences elicited by music. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 116(9), 3793–3798. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1811878116

London Symphony Orchestra. (n.d.). Stravinsky The Rite of Spring // London Symphony Orchestra/Sir Simon Rattle. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EkwqPJZe8ms

Maksimainen, J., Wikgren, J., Eerola, T., & Saarikallio, S. (2018). The Effect of Memory in Inducing Pleasant Emotions with Musical and Pictorial Stimuli. Scientific Reports, 8(1), 17638. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-018-35899-y

Image #1: [Screenshot of first performance of the Rite of Spring]. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-22691267

Image #2: Image taken by me

Image #3: [Screenshot of Figure #1 from study] Ferreri, L., Mas-Herrero, E., Zatorre, R. J., Ripollés, P., Gomez-Andres, A., Alicart, H., … Rodriguez-Fornells, A. (2019). Dopamine modulates the reward experiences elicited by music. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 116(9), 3793–3798. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1811878116

Goo Goo for (Lady) Gaga

In the chapter we read in class, we saw how Stravinsky’s music had a disrupting effect on the listeners’ ears because it was distinct from the sounds they had heard in the past. There were dopaminergic neurons that fired when met with such sounds. But most importantly, these neurons then lead to plasticity in the auditory cortex. It points to an idea that maybe manipulating the use of music can lead to changes in other areas of the brain, not just the auditory cortex. Music plays a role in our daily lives. Who doesn’t love to listen to music while riding the metro to class every day? Those 20 minutes allow me to jam out to my favorite songs and destress for the day. I don’t know how I’d function without it. There have been studies that have shown that music is a great stress reliever (Linnemann et al., 2018).

This then made me wonder, if music plays such a big role on our lives (I mean the same 10 songs are trending worldwide), then could music go beyond just pleasure and truly have effects on our brain? Is there just a pleasant component to music or can it also be beneficial to us? I decided to look into a 2019 study that studied the effects of music on premature infants.

The salience network model

Pre-term babies have a variety of medical complications that can lead to them being in the NICU for weeks or months. While in the NICU, Lordier et al. set to test whether playing music to preterm infants would enhance their brain development (2019). With the use of fMRI testing, they test the brain connectivity in the subjects while they are in a resting state. They first measured the resting-state functional connectivity, which is a measure of the statistical dependencies between different brain regions. The greater the connectivity, the more brain maturity. They measured this prior to music exposure in normal and pre-term babies and found that pre-term babies’ connectivity was significantly less than the full-term babies. Within the connectivity calculation, there is a salience network which helps a person detect a certain stimuli and respond to it accordingly. The salience network connects 3 main areas, for simplification purposes, we can call them the auditory and sensorimotor networks, the thalamus, and the visual cortex. The salience network is made up of the insula, often involved in sensory processing and cognitive abilities, and the anterior cingulate cortex, often involved in emotion and information processing.

The researchers recruited 24 full-term infants and 39 preterm newborns. Within the preterm group, 20 received the musical enhancement while the other 19 did not. They had 3 distinct songs: a song for the baby to wake up to, a song for an awake baby, and a song that helps the baby fall asleep.  The music was played to them for 5 days a week until they were released from the hospital.

Image describing the process of music listening

The results show that there is an increased connectivity in the regions of the sensorimotor network and the thalamus, but not the in the orbitofrontal cortex/visual cortex. This data supports the idea that music does in fact enhance a premature baby’s brain network.  Although this is a good place to start, I believe that further studies should be done to determine what type of music works best and to maybe follow the test subjects through the years to see the effects. Also, it was unclear why one area of the brain, the orbitofrontal cortex did not show an increased connection since when comparing to adults, there is a significant amount of greater activity in this area (Brown et al., 2004).

The results of the study showing the strengthening of the pathways

So, now it makes so much sense why the people who first heard Stravinsky were in a riot, music exposure plays a big role in our lives from such an early age. This study showed us how music is not only something you hear for entertainment purposes; it also has the potential to actually enhance the brain connections of these infants. Prior studies have shown that adults are also able to enhance their brain networks by learning how to play music or by listening to pleasant music (Tanaka and Kirino, 2017). So now that we have seen the extent of music on brain region connectivity, you might want to start putting in your headphones. I know I won’t be feeling guilty for drowning out the world in those 20 minutes of riding in the stuffy metro.


Brown S, Martinez MJ, Parsons LM (2004) Passive music listening spontaneously engages limbic and paralimbic systems. Neuroreport 15, 2033–2037.

Dolezel, Jodi. “Premature Birth Facts and Statistics.” Verywell Family, Verywell Family, 24 June 2019, www.verywellfamily.com/premature-birth-facts-and-statistics-2748469.

Linnemann A, Ditzen B, Strahler J, Doerr JM, Nater UM (2015). Music listening as a means of stress reduction in daily life. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 60:82–90.

Lordier L, Meskaldji D, Grouiller F, Pittet MP, Vollenweider A, Vasung L, Borradori-Tolsa C, Lazeyras F, Grandjean D, Van De Ville D, and Hüppi PS (2019). Music in premature infants enhances high-level cognitive brain networks. PNAS. 116 (24) 12103-12108.

Tanaka S, Kirino E, Reorganization of the thalamocortical network in musicians. Brain Res. 1664, 48–54 (2017)

Image 1: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salience_network

Image 2: https://leapsmag.com/this-special-music-helped-preemie-babies-brains-develop/

Image 3: https://www-pnas-org.proxy.library.emory.edu/content/116/24/12103


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 https://www.assignmentpoint.com/science/biology/limbic-system.html

Electric Feel

A section of the museum! Daft Punk, an electric music duo, is French.

While travelling in Paris, I’ve passed quite a few musicians performing on the streets, whether they are singing, playing an instrument, or both. As someone who listens to music almost nonstop, I always find myself feeling a little brighter after I pass by these performers during my daily outings. What can I say? Music makes me happy, and good music happier. It’s not often that one finds time and space just for listening to music, but the “Electro: From Kraftwerk to Daft Punk” exhibit at the Philharmonie de Paris offered me this very opportunity, revisualizing the sonic experience of electronic dance music (EDM) into an immersive physical space. Tracing the origins of EDM to the present and featuring the works by renowned duo Daft Punk, “Electro” left me thinking about EDM for quite some time after I’d left. How do our brains process and respond to music, and how might the case be different for EDM?

I went to Shaky Beats music festival a year ago. The festival had several EDM artists playing.

Research suggests that listening to music is more complex than we might think, as it activates an entire network of cortical and subcortical areas (Zatorre and Krumhansl, 2002). Even the perception of rhythm involves multiple brain regions (Zatorre et al., 2007). When we hear music we like, our reward systems may activate, and when we tap our feet or bob our heads, we do so almost unbeknownst ourselves through activation of the basal ganglia (Trost et al., 2014; Zatorre et al., 2007).

A recent functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study by Brodal and colleagues examined the relationship between rhythmic music and basal ganglia, an area of the brain typically associated with fine motor skills (Hikosaka et al., 2002; Brodal et al., 2017). To test participants, researchers created a continuous-stimulation design (10.16 minutes long, 120 beats per minute) using an EDM-style composition. Ambient noise generated by the MR scanner was synchronized with the music to mimic an accompanying instrument and to prevent disturbance of participants’ listening experiences. The continuous-stimulation design was a departure from previous studies’ use of short chunks of music, which Brodal and colleagues believed may have caused limitations (Brodal et al., 2017).

Regions researchers observed. (Brodal et al., 2017)

Researchers used stochastic dynamic causal modeling (sDCM), a technology used to examine interactions between auditory perception, rhythm processing, and reward processing, to observe connectivity in the auditory cortex, putamen/pallidum (PP), and ventral striatum/nucleus accumbens (VSNAc) of both hemispheres. The latter two grouped terms were chosen for this study because the low resolution of raw fMRI data prevented distinction between grouped locations.

The sDCM revealed significant connections between all three areas in both hemispheres, as well as reduced functional connectivity in the reward system. Results supported the hypothesis that stimulation from rhythmic EDM-like music decreases connectivity in the right VSNAc from and to the basal ganglia and auditory network. Stimulation also resulted in decreased self-inhibition via the VSNAc, as well as changed hemodynamic parameter of the VSNAc, suggesting an increased level of activation. Furthermore, reduced connectivity was observed in basal ganglia, reward system, basal ganglia and auditory network. Ultimately, results demonstrated reduced reward system connectivity in participants listening to rhythmic music, thus supporting the hypothesis that the ventral striatum/nucleus accumbens region plays a significant role in processing the emotions associated with listening to music (Koelsch, 2014).

As Brodal and colleagues note themselves, one weakness of the study is its methodological constraints. Though evidence already exists on rhythm and the observed effects, researchers’ use of only one music piece prevents confident establishment of a connection, at least in relation to the present study (Brodal et al., 2017). Furthermore, participants’ states while listening to the given music is only compared to one other state, the resting state. Brodal and colleagues note that it is thus impossible to definitively determine whether the observed effects emerged during the resting state (Brodal et al., 2017). Lastly, though not a weakness, laboratory conditions in the Brodal team’s study are far different from normal conditions in which one might listen to music. EDM in particular is often celebrated at large outdoor festivals, and it would be interesting to understand how music interacts with festival environments and other relevant factors to affect our emotions, reward circuits, and capacity for inhibition.

Or who knows? Maybe I’ll see for myself at my next EDM festival. In an era of increasing technologization, electronic music represents not only technology, but also the capability of technology to bring humans together. And it’s comforting knowing that something so powerful can serve us by bringing us joy.



Brodal HP, Osnes B, Specht K (2017) Listening to rhythmic music reduces connectivity within the basal ganglia and the reward system. Frontiers in Neuroscience. 11:153. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnins.2017.00153.

Hikosaka O, Nakamura K, Sakai K, Nakahara H (2002) Central mechanisms of motor skill learning. Current Opinion in Neurobiology 12(2):217-222. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0959-4388(02)00307-0.

Koelsch S (2014) Brain correlates of music-evoked emotions. Nature Reviews: Neuroscience. 15:170-180. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.plrev.2015.03.001.

Cité de la Musique: Philharmonie de Paris (n.d.) The Electro exhibition.

Trost W, Frühholz S, Schӧn D, Labbé C, Pichon S, Grandjean D, Vuilleumier P (2014) Getting the beat: Entrainment of brain activity by musical rhythm and pleasantness. NeuroImage 103:55-64. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuroimage.2014.09.009.

Zatorre RJ, Chen JL, Penhune VB (2007) When the brain plays music: Auditory-motor interactions in music perception and production. Nature Reviews: Neuroscience 8:547-558. https://doi.org/10.1038/nrn2152.

Zatorre RJ, Krumhansl CL (2002) Mental models and musical minds. Science 298:2138-2139. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1080006.

Image 1-2 taken by myself

Image 3 taken from (Brodal et al., 2017).

From EDM to Country Music

This week our class took a trip to the Philharmonie de Paris where we explored the Electro Exhibition titled Kraftwerk to Daft Punk. I was especially excited to see this exhibit because I love electronically produced music and it is prevalent in most of my daily activities. Personally, I like listening to more chill, “low-fi hip hop beats” type of music when I’m studying (ODESZA is my go to, see playlist clouds), and more upbeat and rave-like music while I run (Illenium is a personal favorite, see playlist run). Learning about the history and origins of electro to techno music and the cultural significance from clubs to raves increased my appreciation for the music I listen to daily.

Album cover for A Moment Apart by ODESZA, 10/10 would recommend for study music

While I also like other types of music for other occasions, one music genre I will not listen to is country (except maybe Old Town Road). To me, country music just isn’t enjoyable and being in the south at Emory for the past 3 years hasn’t changed my opinion. However, my music taste had me thinking, what’s the neuroscience behind music preference? Is there a difference in my brain when I listen to songs I like and dislike compared to someone who loves country music but hates electronic music? A study conducted by Wilkins et al. uses network science on the brain to see the connectivity between brain regions when we listen to our favorite song, songs that we like, and songs that we dislike (Wilkins et al., 2014). Network science in neuroscience is an emerging field that studies the brain as a complex network by mapping, recording, and analyzing the interactions between different brain regions (Bassett and Sporns, 2017). In this study, 21 young adults with different music genre preferences and different music backgrounds were asked to listen to five iconic songs categorized in the genres classical, country, rap/hip hop, rock, an unfamiliar genre such as Chinese opera, and their personally selected favorite song. While the subjects listened to the full song, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) data was collected. fMRI is a technique that measures brain activity by detecting changes in blood flow.

During the fMRI scan, subjects were also asked to rate whether they liked or disliked the song being played on a scale. Four network science statistics, degree, global efficiency, local efficiency and community structure, were used to quantify the data. Degree distribution is a measure of how many other nodes a specific node is connected to, thus the greater the degree distribution, the more connections there are from a specific area. Global efficiency (Eglob) is a measure of distance between one node and another, thus a greater Eglob indicates shorter distance from one node to the rest of the network (Bassett and Sporns, 2017). Local efficiency (Eloc) is like global efficiency but on a smaller scale that measures local connectivity (Bassett and Sporns, 2017). Lastly, community structure identifies the nodes that are more connected to each other rather than to other parts of the brain.

Results showed that in all participants, the default mode network (DMN) and the precuneus in particular have the highest degree nodes in the brain when listening to the songs, regardless of genre preference. The DMN is a network of brain regions including the precuneus that is involved in introspection and reprocessing of memories (Greicis et al., 2003).

fMRI of brain regions in the DMN

There is also significantly higher global efficiency in the precuneus when subjects listened to songs they liked compared to songs they disliked, meaning there were closer connections within the precuneus when subjects listened to songs they liked. There is no significant difference in local efficiency between liked, disliked, and favorite song condition. Additionally, there was a greater dissociation/fewer connections between the precuneus and another brain region in the DMN in the dislike condition compared to the like condition. The authors did not state whether this difference in community structure was significant or not, but this information could have strengthened the authors’ hypothesis that there are differences in neural activity when we listen to music we like and music we don’t like.

Differences in community structure between Like and Dislike conditions. In the Like condition there is more connectivity between the precuneus and other parts of the brain compared to the Dislike condition.

Overall, there is a difference in brain connectivity when I listen to electronic music compared to when I listen to country music and this same activity is present in someone else who likes listening to country music but not electronic music. The exact reason for this connectivity difference is not yet known but the fact that we now know that there is an association between brain connectivity patterns and music preference brings us closer to understanding the neuroscience of music preference. So I guess one thing I can say I have in common with those who like country music is that we have similar neural connectivity when we listen to the music we like.


Bassett, D. S., & Sporns, O. (2017). Network neuroscience. Nature Neuroscience, 20, 353-364.

Greicius, M. D., Krasnow, B., Reiss, A. L., & Menon, V. (2003). Functional connectivity in the resting brain: A network analysis of the default mode hypothesis. PNAS, 100(1), 253-258.

Wilkins, R. W., Hodges, D. A., Laurienti, P. J., Steen, M., & Burdette, J. H. (2014). Network science and the effects of music preference on functional brain connectivity: From Beethoven to Eminem. Scientific Reports, 4.




Stars, Stripes, and the Sound of Music

When I played sports in high school, I was one of those people who would leave their headphones on until the last possible minute because I needed the music to focus. During warm-ups, if there was a song playing, I’d make sure to move to the beat or sing the lyrics to get in the right mentality. Music has always been something that I have connected to sports. This past Sunday, we had the wonderful opportunity to go see the US women’s soccer team play here in Paris for the FIFA World Cup. They won 3-0! Without a doubt, it was truly one of the highlights of the entire program! At the beginning, when the players first came onto the pitch, an upbeat song with a lot of bass reverberated in the stadium. The crowd went wild, and they were screaming their hearts out. Almost as if contagious, the soccer players also gained adrenaline listening to this song and they jumped to the beat as they were doing their last minute warm-ups. Whether it’s before or during the game, I decided to look into the impact of music on physical performance.

NBB students love cheering on the US!

Songs like “We are the Champions,” “All I do is win,” “Crazy Train,” and “We Will Rock You,” are commonly heard at sporting events. These songs raise the spirits of the crowd, but do they also help players perform better? Elvers and Steffens’ study set out to determine just that (2017). They had 150 participants complete a basketball task where they had to throw the ball into a funnel. They measured a lot of variables to be able to reach multiple conclusions. One of the hypotheses was that performance would be improved if the person listened to music beforehand. The results show that performance is only improved if the person was already good at the task and if the player had the option to choose the type of music. Since the soccer game was between professional athletes, we can assume that there’s a high chance that their performance could be improved with music. They also measured risk-taking behavior by letting the participants decide at what distance to shoot the ball from. Here, listening to any type of music made the participants more prone to choosing to shoot from further away. In professional soccer games, we never see the same plays over and over again, they are often taking risks in order to get the result they want. Could it be that the soccer players are listening to music and find that it gives them the motivation to take risks during the game?

When we look at the different brain regions that are activated while this process is occurring, we see that there is a connection between music and the premotor cortex. In a 2009 study, they had participants listen to music that they considered pleasurable and music that they considered non-pleasurable (Kornysheva et. al.). They scanned participants using fMRI and found that there was greater activation in both the ventral premotor cortex, an area of the brain involved with motor control, and cerebellar areas, often involved in balance and coordination, when they listened to music that they considered pleasurable versus listening to the non-pleasurable music. The brain actually adjusts to a certain tempo of music, and it can increase motor function, hence better performance. So, music not only impacts performance in the present, it also changes the brain responses for the future. If only we could have scanned the brains of the US team while they were playing to see if we would find that their premotor cortex had a greater activation after listening to that song heard all over the stadium.

The premotor cortex (PMC) and the cerebellum are both involved in music’s effect on sport performance.

Although there have been a considerable number of studies whose aim is to find the correlation between sports’ performance and music, there is still more research to be done. For example, how is it that these same songs played worldwide can elicit the same response from athletes who are all different. Is it their beat that makes them classics? Do they all cause people’s heart to start racing and adrenaline to rush through their veins? It would also be beneficial to look for possible detrimental effects of listening to music causing a decrease in performance.

In the meantime, let’s keep hoping that the music on full blast in the stadiums brings out the best from the US soccer team so that they can bring home a championship! I believe that we will win!

The U.S. planning their next move.


Elvers P., Steffens J. (2017). The sound of success: investigating cognitive and behavioral effects of motivational music in sports. Front. Psychol. 8:2026.

Kornysheva, K., von Cramon, D. Y., Jacobsen, T., and Schubotz, R. I. (2010). Tuning-in to the beat: aesthetic appreciation of musical rhythms correlates with a premotor activity boost. Hum. Brain Mapp. 31, 48–64.

Image 1: taken by Sarah Taha

Image 2: https://www.researchgate.net/figure/Illusory-Hand-ownership-modified-after-Blanke-2012-The-main-brain-regions-that-are_fig20_283465205

Image 3: taken by me

Memories sparked by music

As I was exploring the Electro exhibition at the Philharmonie de Paris, I was in awe of the transformation of electronic dance music over time. I did not know what to expect when I walked through those doors. Although I have recently been exposed to what goes into making a beat, I was truly amazed at the amount of detail and planning that needs to happen in order to create a harmonious sound. However, I don’t listen to electronic music all that often, and I was shocked at how much I was enjoying the exhibit. I realized that some of my favorite memories have been attached to songs and when I hear them, that rush of emotions comes back. I feel like I am reliving some of the best nights. Music has the power to move me emotionally and helps me remember experiences I wouldn’t always remember otherwise. I am always amazed with how much one song can mean to me, not because of the words but because of what memories are associated with it.

Part of the Electro exhibition

As I was walking through the Electro exhibition, I was reminded of some of my favorite nights listening to my friend make music, and it took me back to a time of such happiness. There have been studies conducted that conclude that music is strongly interconnected with memories (Belfi et al, 2015). In one study, participants heard 30 different songs and saw 30 different faces of famous people. The researchers were looking to measure the strength of memories evoked listening to the songs compared to looking at the faces. They found that the participants had stronger memory association for details and specific autobiographical information when listening to the songs (Belfi et al, 2015).  However, the researchers used a self-evaluation survey to rate the strength of autobiographical memory evoked by each stimulus. This recording strategy may have resulted in a bias or inaccurate association. This study helps us understand that it is possible for music to activate memories with greater specificity. The music in the exhibition had a similar effect on me as well. I was able to remember feeling happy and at peace  while sitting in my friend’s apartment listening to electronic music.

The same feeling of happiness and serenity may be triggered years from now by hearing the same kind of music. This phenomenon could be applied to help patients struggling with Alzheimer’s because music has also been shown to enhance memory in these patients (Cuddy and Duffin, 2005). Researchers wanted to test to see if listening to music helped patients learn and recognize new information (Simmons-Stern, 2010). By pairing unknown lyrics with sung or spoken recordings, the researchers measured which modality was easier to remember for these patients (Simmons-Stern, 2010). They found that after showing the song and the spoken word, the patients with Alzheimer’s disease recognized more words in the sung recordings rather than the spoken word as shown in the figure below (Simmons-Stern, 2010). Healthy patients did not have a preference between modality. To strengthen their conclusion, the researchers made sure to leave out any songs the subjects recognized prior to the study. This study helped demonstrate that there is a possibility of heightening arousal and memory for patients with Alzheimer’s disease through the use of music. Heightened memory may describe why listening to the specific music in the exhibit triggered happiness and peace for me.

The Recognition of Song vs. Spoken Lyric for AD and Control Patients

Stimulation in Electro Exhibit where you could make your own beat

Throughout the Electro exhibition, I was impressed with the way the sound made me feel. Even though I was just listening to the beat, I felt so at home in that space. I was truly impressed with how quickly I was able to transport myself to a different moment. As I walked to the part of the exhibit that let me manipulate instruments to make my own beat, I felt so happy, and I realize now that it’s because the music evoked a memory of my best friend teaching me to do the same thing on his computer. The comfort and happiness of that moment flooded me because the music I was listening triggered an emotional memory.


Belfi AM, Karlan B, Tranel D (2015) Music evokes vivid autobiographical memories. Memory24:979–989.

Cuddy LL, Duffin J (2005) Music, memory, and Alzheimer’s disease: is music recognition spared in dementia, and how can it be assessed? Medical Hypotheses64:229–235.

Simmons-Stern NR, Budson AE, Ally BA (2010) Music as a memory enhancer in patients with Alzheimer’s disease. Neuropsychologia48:3164–3167.

Photo of Study:

Simmons-Stern NR, Budson AE, Ally BA (2010) Music as a memory enhancer in patients with Alzheimer’s disease. Neuropsychologia48:3164–3167.




Georgia On My Mind

White earplugs hang from the ears of every person in my view. Surrounded by people from all sides, I heard a mixture of different songs, different artists, and different genres echo in the quiet metro. Every day, at 8:55 AM I  got on the metro at La Motte-Picquet- Grenelle and 16 stops later, I  got off at Ledru-Rollin, where my classes are. Even though I  saw different people rushing in and out of the metro, I never failed to spot the white earphones or ear pods in people’s ears.

The Metro line M8 taken from La Motte-Picquet- Grenelle station and the 16 stops before arriving to Ledru-Rollin station (the start and stop are identified by the red boxes).

On the streets of Paris, people of various ages walked to the beat of their songs pumping in their ears. So why are Parisians infatuated with music?

A picture of a Parisian on the metro listening to music.

It turns out that our brain interprets music as a pleasant and rewarding experience (Ferreri et al., 2019). In scientific terms, a well-known neurotransmitter, dopamine, is a chemical substance that is released by neurons when we experience pleasure. An experiment performed by Ferreri et al., 2019 studied the role of dopamine on feelings of pleasure and motivation to listen to music. They did that by  having volunteer participants receive orally either a chemical that enhances dopamine, prevents dopamine, or does not affect dopamine in their brains while they listen to music. The results show that the participants who  take the dopamine enhancer  have increased feelings of pleasure and motivation to listen to music, while the opposite effects are seen for individuals who  take the dopamine inhibitor. So, people like Parisians who listen to music experience a rush of pleasure. A simple analogy is that an individual’s brain reacts similarly when listening to music as it does if that individual takes potent drugs, such as cocaine.

The one thing that is constantly surrounding us anywhere in the world is music, whether we are at a supermarket, a café, or a mall. We are constantly being stimulated by music as it is becoming an integral part of every culture. Not only does it touch our mood and emotions, but also it influences our thoughts. Have you ever listened to a song and started to think about all your future life decisions? Of a memory with your friends? Of the challenges you have been through?

Well, researchers show that stronger emotions are experienced when we involve our personal memories  while listening to music whether we find it pleasant or unpleasant (Maksimainen et al., 2018). When we enjoy a song, our memories of certain events heighten our emotional response. This is why when we listen to our favorite song, we start remembering things that happened to us and we feel like we are experiencing these emotions again. But wait, there’s more…music affects parts of the brain that are involved in processing information that go beyond our emotions.  One study examines a circuit of 3 main networks in the brain of preterm compared to full term newborns (Lordier et al., 2019). The findings revealed that preterm infants who are introduced to music in the intensive care unit at the hospital have significantly more connections in the orange and blue networks compared to preterm infants who were not exposed to music. The brain regions involved in the orange network are the superior frontal gyrus, the auditory cortex, and the sensorimotor area, which are involved in cognitive control, auditory processing and motor control, respectively. The brain regions involved in the blue network are the thalamus, precuneus, and parahippocampal gyrus, which are involved in processing information from our senses, recall of memories and encoding and retrieval of memories, respectively. The important take away is that preterm infants who are exposed to music have brain networks that develop more similarly to full term newborns. This means that music plays a role in enhancing our brain networks, which indirectly affects higher cognitive functions.

An image of the brain that shows the networks of interest in the Lordier et al. (2019) study.

Now, as I stand in the metro unlike my first day in Paris, I am the one with the white earphones hanging from my ears. As I listen to country and pop songs, I enjoy every moment of my metro ride instead of counting the minutes  till I reach my destination. I am relaxed, experiencing my own rush of pleasure. Each song evokes in me a different memory, a different feeling than the last. Listening to Ray Charles, Georgia on my mind, I reminisce about my experiences in Atlanta.  Music, a part of our daily lives that we often disregard, actually has a strong influence on our brain network and emotional experiences.

An image of me on the metro with my earphones in, listening to music after spending 2 weeks in Paris.


Lordier, L., Meskaldji, D., Grouiller, F., Pittet, M., Vollenweider, A., & Vasung, L. et al. (2019). Music in premature infants enhances high-level cognitive brain networks. Proceedings Of The National Academy Of Sciences, 201817536. doi:10.1073/pnas.1817536116

Ferreri, L., Mas-Herrero, E., Zatorre, R., Ripollés, P., Gomez-Andres, A., & Alicart, H. et al. (2019). Dopamine modulates the reward experiences elicited by music. Proceedings Of The National Academy Of Sciences116(9), 3793-3798. doi:10.1073/pnas.1811878116

 Maksimainen, J., Wikgren, J., Eerola, T., & Saarikallio, S. (2018). The Effect of Memory in Inducing Pleasant Emotions with Musical and Pictorial Stimuli. Scientific Reports8(1). doi:10.1038/s41598-018-35899-y

The Music of the Metro

Paris is a unique city experience unlike any other I’ve partaken in. So many sites to visit, places to eat, districts to explore…how can one possibly get to them all? Simple: the Metro! Paris has an extensive metro system that covers any point you could ever want to visit. Atlanta may be fantastic in other respects, but the MARTA is definitely not set up for the burdens of massive public transportation. Riding the Metro daily to and from class was an entirely new process for me to get used to, from the rapidly closing doors to complete lack of personal space. Attached here is a picture of me in front of the station for the Balard train at the ACCENT center stop, Ledru Rollin.

Pictured above: the Balard Metro station as I wait for the next upcoming train three minutes away.

One of the first things I noticed about Metro riding was the efficiency; the doors closed so quickly after each person, I was shocked no one got stuck! As I got used to the train, I observed a noise that is played in front of every door right before it closes to alerts passengers that the door is closing. This noise is poignant and cutting, eliciting a harsh auditory reaction that informs passengers to stay clear of the area. As you hear it, you register that it is loud and unpleasant. What interested me so much is how this closing noise utilizes tonal dissonance to be more brash and effective. Attached below is an audio recording of the noise, taken during my morning commute (it may not open in Chrome, but it works in other web browsers).


This simple use of two tones causes such a visceral reaction for a reason; the frequencies of pitch and how they travel to the brain. Two pitches that are half or eight steps apart affect the same area of the basilar membrane, a structure located in the cochlea that is responsible for converting sound waves into nerve impulses that head to the brain. This joint stimulation results in beating (roughness in the basilar membrane) at a frequency that is determined by the difference between the two frequencies of the initial pitches (Johnson-Laird 2012). The clash between these almost-identical frequencies interact with one another to make a warbling, distorted sound.

This can be defined as a harmonically incongruous combination of notes, which is one that does not conform to the rules of harmony. The response to this in the brain is called the early right anterior negativity (ERAN); this event-related potential component occurs at an early latency, is prominent over anterior regions of the scalp, and tends to be lateralized to the right side. The amplitude of this response is modulated directly by attention and is more prominent in those with a familiarity towards music. An experiment was done observing harmonically incongruous chords in the context of a melodic sequence of chords and is shown in the figure below. Harmonically incongruous chords result in an attenuated response of neuronal firing when the tonal discord is in different positions (Positions 3, 5, 7) in the melodic phrase (Leino 2007). The hemispheric lateralization of the ERAN response is visible in the Position 3 example. In Position 7, the incongruous chord occurs at the end and elicits the strongest response and the greatest difference in neuronal firing rates.

Shows the difference in neuronal firing rates in specific areas of the brain during harmonically congruous and incongruous chords,

Of course, every individual has a different level of pitch identification. Absolute pitch refers to the phenomenon of identifying any pitch without given an external reference. Even during our pitch identification process, we activate the auditory cortex, prefrontal cortex, and certain parietal regions of the brain (Brauchli 2019); yet, we are not all as heavily invested in pitch as a musical function. Why is the ability to identify harmonic versus dissonant sounds in everyday life even important? Besides the tones used in music, language lends itself to a variety of colorful tones and variations in pitch. We use pitch in everyday conversation with specific inflection; for example, a rising pitch at the end of a sentence is often used to indicate a question. On the Metro, this understanding is important because it allows us to register a harmonically incongruous sound like the door closing and turn that into information: the train will soon close the doors. A small part of the everyday Parisian experience, yet an important one nonetheless. Maybe this is something you have yet to notice about the Metro experience, but it is fascinating regardless!

Aliyah Auerbach

Brauchli, C., Leipold, S., & Jäncke, L. (2019). Univariate and multivariate analyses of functional networks in absolute pitch. NeuroImage, 189, 241-247. doi:10.1016/j.neuroimage.2019.01.021

Jonhson-Laird, P. N., Kang, O. E., & Long, Y. C. (2012). On Musical Dissonance. Music Perception: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 30(1), 19-35.

Leino, S., Brattico, E., Tervaniemi, M., & Vuust, P. (2007). Representation of harmony rules in the human brain: Further evidence from event-related potentials. Brain Research, 1142, 169-177. doi:10.1016/j.brainres.2007.01.049

It’s Not Just a Phase, Mom- How Sad Music is More Enjoyable than Happy Music

In light of the recent music festival and the fact that music can be heard regularly throughout the Métro and streets of Paris, I decided to look into the effects of music on the brain. In my experience I’ve always found that, in a public setting such as the Métro, I prefer to hear people playing calming instrumental music, like an acoustic guitar, rather than an entire band playing an upbeat song. While this may just be based on personal opinion, I wanted to know if there was a neurobiological process that governed this reaction. Obviously, examining every sentiment or bias towards music is beyond the scope of one or two studies, so I refined my question: what brain processes drive us to form opinions of music that is perceptually happy or sad?

Figure 1: Map of all the Fête de la Musique major events in Paris- there’s music for all tastes!

My first inquiry led me to an article by Brattico et al. (2011) that aimed to show the difference in activity of certain brain regions from music that is happy or sad, and with or without lyrics. They hypothesized that songs with lyrics will activate the left fronto-temporal language network, while songs without lyrics would activate right-hemispheric brain structures. Also, they expected to observe activation of left-hemispheric auditory areas by happy music (which is richer in fast transitions) and of right-hemispheric areas by sad music (with slower “attacks” and tempos). They used fifteen subjects who were told to bring in 16 familiar music pieces: four sad and four happy pieces from favorite music, and four sad and four happy pieces from disliked or even hated music. The music, within the four categories, was then computer-analyzed to average the attack slope (sharpness of musical events, for example, most percussion would result in a high attack slope) and spectral centroid (brightness and frequency balance of the music, similar to timbre), as well as tempo and mode (major or minor chord quality) (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Differences of attacks slope, spectral centroid, tempo, and mode in the four music categories.

The subjects listened to 18 second excerpts of the music they brought while their brain activity was monitored. After the excerpts, they were asked if they liked or disliked the music, as well as if they thought the music was happy or sad. Their findings of the difference in activated areas between categories are shown in Figure 3. Although the researchers described in detail what each activated brain region meant in correlation with its usual information processing, I’ll only mention a few interesting points that relate to my original question:

  • Sad music induced activity in the right caudate head and the left thalamus. Interestingly, the left thalamus is one of only a few brain structures that is involved in processing sadness in faces, suggesting a link between emotions evoked by visual or auditory stimuli.
  • Also, sad music led to activity in both the subcortical stratial region, which is involved in judging musical and physical beauty.
  • Happy music without lyrics more strongly activated structures associated with perception and recognition of basic emotions, like the left anterior cingulate cortex and the right insula, than happy music with lyrics.
  • However, sad music led to wider brain activity during music with lyrics than without, such as emotion-related areas like the right claustrum and left medial frontal gyrus.

Figure 3: Differences in activation of brain regions due to music emotion and presence of lyrics. For example, “Lyrics > Instrumental” signifies the regions that were activated in lyrical music, but not in intrumental. ITG stands for inferior temporal gyrus, ACC stands for anterior cingulate cortex, Cau for caudate, Cun for cuneus, CG for cingulate gyrus, Dec for cerebellar declive, ITG stands for inferior temporal gyrus, Put for putamen, STG for superior temporal gyrus, TTG for transverse temporal gyrus, and Thal for thalamus.

Based off these results, the researchers concluded that instrumental music is efficient in conveying positive emotions, while sad emotions are reinforced when lyrics are present. They suggest that vocal cues in sad music activate deep emotion-related structures which produce mental associations with negative emotional experiences, as shown in activation of limbic and paralimbic regions. This activation causes people to have “moving” experiences.

Below are two pieces of music I think Brattico et al. would suggest have high emotional impact- a familiar sad song with vocals and a familiar instrumental happy song. How do they make you feel? (Songs are Hallelujah by Jeff Buckley and Canon in D by Pachelbel, I own no rights to these)

Overall, I thought the study provides a thorough analysis of the brain regions that are differentially activated during happy or sad music, and even considers the effect of lyrics. The only aspect of the experimental procedure that confused me was their decision to have the subjects bring in their own music. Although the researchers say that the subjects had similar familiarity with the music, there was probably some differing in familiarity throughout the categories. I, for one, would probably have a more difficult time finding four sad songs that I hate but know well, than I would in finding four happy songs that I like.

Something that I still didn’t understand fully was their mention of the underlying feelings of being “moved” from music. So, I looked at another article, this time by Vuoskoski and Eerola (2017), that examined the effect of perceptions of music, such as beauty, on this sentiment. They hypothesized that sadness in music has a positive association with beauty, and mediates the feeling of being moved, which in turn causes a sense of enjoyment or pleasure.

The experimental procedure consisted of having 19 music students listen to 27 short film excerpts. The participants then rated the perceived emotion of the music based on six scales: sad/melancholic, moving/touching, tender/warm, peaceful/relaxing, scary/distressing, and happy/joyful, as well as if they liked it or not. The correlation between the qualities is shown in Figure 4. As the table shows, beauty was shown to have a positive correlation with sadness and a high correlation with liking. Also, the perception of being moved was the most highly correlated with beauty and sadness. Overall, Vuoskoski and Eerola found that the indirect effect via movingness on liking was twice the magnitude of that via beauty, which suggests that perceived movingness acts as the largest link between sadness and liking. In other words, the sadder a song is, the more you will be “moved”, and the more you will enjoy it. It is important to point out that this is not saying that happy songs are unlikeable- there was still a positive correlation between happiness and liking, but it was slightly lower than that of sadness.

Figure 4: Correlation values between different emotional qualities of music and liking.

This study gives convincing, albeit initially difficult to understand, connections between sadness and enjoyment of music through the sentiment of “being moved”. The only downside of the study is that the participants were asked about how they thought the music sounded, not how it made them feel. Although it might only be a slight difference in wording, it could play a larger role in terms in relating the feelings to regional activation in the brain, like in the study by Brattico et al. However, by accepting that perception and feeling are inherently linked, we can conclude that the largest enjoyment can be obtained from sad music with vocals, as it strongly activates the regions of the brain that cause the listeners to be emotionally moved. I think an interesting future direction would be to see the effect of human interaction on enjoyment from sad music- I would assume that there would be less enjoyment out of listening to sad music in a group setting, as cultural norms would start to play a larger role.

Even though the findings indicate that sadness gives a higher level of enjoyment, I find it hard to believe that this would not differ between people. What do you think? Do you find that you have a more emotional or pleasurable experience when listening to sad music than happy music?


Brattico E, Alluri V, Bogert B, Jacobsen T, Vartiainen N, Nieminen S, Mari Tervaniemi M (2011) A Functional MRI Study of Happy and Sad Emotions in Music with and without Lyrics. Frontiers in Psychology. 2:308.

Vuoskoski JK, Eerola T (2017) The Pleasure Evoked by Sad Music Is Mediated by Feelings of Being Moved. Frontiers in Psychology. 8:439.

Figure 1 was found through Creative Commons

Figure 2 and 3 were taken from the article by Brattico et al.

Figure 4 was taken from the article by Vuoskoski  and Eerola

Videos were taken from YouTube