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60-Second Science

Different Brain Regions Handle Different Music Types

Functional MRI of the listening brain found that different regions become active when listening to different types of music and instrumental versus vocals. Allie Wilkinson reports 

 

Vivaldi versus the Beatles. Both great. But your brain may be processing the musical information differently for each. That’s according to research in the journal NeuroImage. [Vinoo Alluri et al, From Vivaldi to Beatles and back: Predicting lateralized brain responses to music]

For the study, volunteers had their brains scanned by functional MRI as they listened to two musical medleys containing songs from different genres. The scans identified brain regions that became active during listening.

One medley included four instrumental pieces and the other consisted of songs from the B side of Abbey Road.

Computer algorithms were used to identify specific aspects of the music, which the researchers were able to match with specific, activated brain areas. The researchers found that vocal and instrumental music get treated differently. While both hemispheres of the brain deal with musical features, the presence of lyrics shifts the processing of musical features to the left auditory cortex.

These results suggest that the brain’s hemispheres are specialized for different kinds of sound processing. A finding revealed but what you might call instrumental analysis.

—Allie Wilkinson

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]
 

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