Researchers Watch Music Play in the Brain

Mar. 23 --

THURSDAY, Aug. 2 (HealthDay News) -- The human brain's activity shifts along with music's changing moods, a new study shows.

In fact, music may help scientists study the brain's ability to organize sensory information into key segments from which it can extract meaning, U.S. researchers say.

A team at the Stanford University School of Medicine used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to observe brain activity in volunteers as they listened to recordings of short symphonies by the English composer William Boyce, each of which has well-defined movements (sections).

The fMRI results showed that two distinct brain areas were involved in perceiving transitions between movements in the symphonies. One area was in the ventral region of the prefrontal cortex, and the other was in the dorsal region.

Activity in the ventral region preceded and caused subsequent activity in the dorsal region. Both of the active regions are located in the right side of the brain, which is believed to be involved in processing music.

The new finding "expands on our current knowledge of event segmentation processes in the brain," the researchers wrote.

They said that examining "such segmentation processes in music may be a useful window into similar processes in other domains, such as spoken and signed language, visual perception, and tactile perception."

The findings are in the Aug. 2 issue of the journal Neuron.

More information

The American College of Radiology, Radiological Society of North America has more about fMRI.

SOURCE: Cell Press, news release, Aug. 1, 2007