3 years ago

Singing in the brain: Neural representation of music and voice as revealed by fMRI

Jorge L. Armony, Jocelyne C. Whitehead


The ubiquity of music across cultures as a means of emotional expression, and its proposed evolutionary relation to speech, motivated researchers to attempt a characterization of its neural representation. Several neuroimaging studies have reported that specific regions in the anterior temporal lobe respond more strongly to music than to other auditory stimuli, including spoken voice. Nonetheless, because most studies have employed instrumental music, which has important acoustic distinctions from human voice, questions still exist as to the specificity of the observed “music‐preferred” areas. Here, we sought to address this issue by testing 24 healthy young adults with fast, high‐resolution fMRI, to record neural responses to a large and varied set of musical stimuli, which, critically, included a capella singing, as well as purely instrumental excerpts. Our results confirmed that music; vocal or instrumental, preferentially engaged regions in the superior STG, particularly in the anterior planum polare, bilaterally. In contrast, human voice, either spoken or sung, activated more strongly a large area along the superior temporal sulcus. Findings were consistent between univariate and multivariate analyses, as well as with the use of a “silent” sparse acquisition sequence that minimizes any potential influence of scanner noise on the resulting activations. Activity in music‐preferred regions could not be accounted for by any basic acoustic parameter tested, suggesting these areas integrate, likely in a nonlinear fashion, a combination of acoustic attributes that, together, result in the perceived musicality of the stimuli, consistent with proposed hierarchical processing of complex auditory information within the temporal lobes.

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