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Abstract

The increasingly intensive study of music by neuroscientists over the past two decades has established the neurosciences of music as a subdiscipline of cognitive neuroscience, responsible for investigating the neural basis for music perception, cognition, and emotion. In this endeavor, music perception and cognition have often been compared with language processing and understanding, while music-induced emotions are compared with emotions induced by visual stimuli. Here, we review research that is beginning to define a new field of study called neuroaesthetics of music. According to this fresh perspective, music is viewed primarily as an expressive art rather than as a cognitive domain. The goal of this emerging field is to understand the neural mechanisms and structures involved in the perceptual, affective and cognitive processes that generate the three principal aesthetic responses: emotions, judgments, and preference. Although much is known about the frontotemporal brain mechanisms underlying perceptual and cognitive musical processes, and about the limbic and paralimbic networks responsible for musical affect, there is a great deal of work to be done in understanding the neural chronometry and structures determining aesthetic responses to music. Research has only recently begun to delineate the modulatory effects of the listener, listening situation, and the properties of the music itself on a musical aesthetic experience. This article offers a review and synthesis of our current understanding of the perceptual, cognitive, and affective processes involved in an aesthetic musical experience and introduces a novel framework to coordinate future endeavors in an emerging field.
The Neuroaesthetics of Music
Elvira Brattico
University of Helsinki and University of Jyväskylä
Marcus Pearce
Queen Mary, University of London and Goldsmiths, University
of London
The increasingly intensive study of music by neuroscientists over the past two decades has established
the neurosciences of music as a subdiscipline of cognitive neuroscience, responsible for investigating the
neural basis for music perception, cognition, and emotion. In this endeavor, music perception and
cognition have often been compared with language processing and understanding, while music-induced
emotions are compared with emotions induced by visual stimuli. Here, we review research that is
beginning to define a new field of study called neuroaesthetics of music. According to this fresh
perspective, music is viewed primarily as an expressive art rather than as a cognitive domain. The goal
of this emerging field is to understand the neural mechanisms and structures involved in the perceptual,
affective and cognitive processes that generate the three principal aesthetic responses: emotions, judg-
ments, and preference. Although much is known about the frontotemporal brain mechanisms underlying
perceptual and cognitive musical processes, and about the limbic and paralimbic networks responsible for
musical affect, there is a great deal of work to be done in understanding the neural chronometry and
structures determining aesthetic responses to music. Research has only recently begun to delineate the
modulatory effects of the listener, listening situation, and the properties of the music itself on a musical
aesthetic experience. This article offers a review and synthesis of our current understanding of the
perceptual, cognitive, and affective processes involved in an aesthetic musical experience and introduces
a novel framework to coordinate future endeavors in an emerging field.
Keywords: music, auditory cortex, cognitive neuroscience, pitch, rhythm
Overture: From Neuroscience to Neuroaesthetics
of Music
People value music primarily for aesthetic reasons: for the
emotions it generates, for triggering memories, and for its beauty
(Juslin & Laukka, 2004; Laukka, 2007; McDonald & Stewart,
2008). Just as in other aesthetic domains such as visual art,
architecture, or dance (see also Leder, Belke, Oeberst, & Augustin,
2004), listening to and performing music generates, in concert with
a favorable environment and listening situation, aesthetic experi-
ences that include specific emotions and evaluative judgments of
beauty, aesthetic quality, and liking. The question of how music
generates an aesthetic experience has been addressed with scien-
tific methods since the dawn of experimental psychology. A new
era of empirical work on musical perception began with Helmholtz
(1863/1985) who, inspired by Hanslick (1854/1954), associated
the aesthetic qualities of musical notes and scales with their
psychoacoustic properties (especially frequency ratios between
partials of complex tones). Wundt, a founder of experimental
psychology and one-time assistant of Helmholtz in Heidelberg,
developed a more psychological approach to the study of aes-
thetics, introspecting, for example, about how his own sensa-
tions of pleasure, tension, and excitement varied with the tempo
of a metronome (see Miller & Bukhout, 1973). Elsewhere,
Wundt demonstrated that physiological arousal is related to
stimulus complexity and argued that aesthetic pleasure is max-
imal at intermediate degrees of complexity (Wundt, 1874). In
his new experimental aesthetics, Berlyne (1971) developed this
idea into an inverted U-shaped function linking the “arousal
potential” of a stimulus with its “hedonic value,” such that
intermediate degrees of arousal correspond to maximum plea-
sure and attempted to identify how stimulus properties (such as
complexity, familiarity, novelty, uncertainty) influence aspects
of the aesthetic experience such as arousal, pleasure, and inter-
estingness.
Elvira Brattico, Cognitive Brain Research Unit, Institute of Behavioral
Sciences, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland and Center of Excel-
lence for Interdisciplinary Music Research, University of Jyväskylä, Jyväs-
kylä, Finland; Marcus Pearce, Centre for Cognition, Computation and
Culture, Goldsmiths, Queen Mary, University of London, London and
Goldsmiths, University of London, United Kingdom and School of Elec-
tronic Engineering and Computer Science, Queen Mary, University of
London.
The authors contributed equally to this article. We thank the Academy of
Finland (project No. 133673) and the University of Helsinki (3-year grant,
project No. 490083), as well as the United Kingdom Engineering and
Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC project number EP/
H01294X/1) for financial support.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Elvira
Brattico, Cognitive Brain Research Unit, Institute of Behavioral Sciences,
P.O. Box 9, 00014 University of Helsinki, Finland. E-mail: elvira
.brattico@helsinki.fi, or Marcus Pearce, School of Electronic Engineering
and Computer Science, Queen Mary, University of London, London E1
4NS, United Kingdom. E-mail: marcus.pearce@eecs.qmul.ac.uk.
Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts © 2013 American Psychological Association
2013, Vol. 7, No. 1, 48 61 1931-3896/13/$12.00 DOI: 10.1037/a0031624
48
Although the neurosciences of music can be now considered an
autonomous subdiscipline of cognitive neuroscience (Levitin &
Tirovolas, 2009; Peretz & Zatorre, 2003), the neuroaesthetics of
music remains relatively undeveloped. For example, many exper-
iments have been conducted on the neural effects of musical
expertise on perceptual and cognitive skills (e.g., Brattico et al.,
2009; Kraus & Chandrasekaran, 2010; Pallesen et al., 2010;
Schulze, Zysset, Mueller, Friederici, & Koelsch, 2011; Tervani-
emi, Rytkönen, Schröger, Ilmoniemi, & Näätänen, 2001), but only
two such studies have focused on aesthetic or affective judgments
(Müller, Höfel, Brattico, & Jacobsen, 2010; Brattico et al., in
preparation). By contrast, neuroscientific and psychological re-
search on the visual perception of artistic stimuli seems to have
given equal weight to cognitive processing (e.g., Wiesmann &
Ishai, 2011, for expertise effects in perception of Cubist paintings)
and aesthetic and affective experience (e.g., Kirk, Skov, Chris-
tensen, & Nygaard, 2009, for expertise effects on aesthetic prefer-
ence for architecture). We suggest two reasons for this asymmetry:
first, most musical experiences occur in nonaesthetic situations, lead-
ing to a focus on basic goal-oriented emotions (Jacobsen, 2009;
Sloboda, 2010); second, interest in the relationship with language
processing in the neurosciences of music has led to a cognitive
rather than aesthetic approach to musical experience (i.e., a focus
on the cognitive representation and processing of musical structure
rather than the affective and aesthetic experiences that often result
from this processing). Even in the psychology of music, “Psychol-
ogists have tended to avoid studying aesthetic response to music
. . . [and] rather focused on more mundane aspects such as pref-
erence” (Juslin, Liljeström, Västfjäll, & Lundqvist, 2010, p. 635).
Here we view preference as an important, possibly even necessary
though not sufficient, component of the aesthetic experience of
music.
Research has found that beauty is an important part of most
people’s understanding of musical aesthetics, for music experts
and nonexperts (Istok et al., 2009), and for 6- to 9-year-old
children (Nieminen et al., 2011) replicating results for visual art
(Jacobsen, 2004). Drawing on proposals by Brattico, Bogert, and
Jacobsen (in press); Juslin et al. (2010); Sloboda (2010); Har-
greaves and North (2010); and Leder et al. (2004), we define an
aesthetic experience of music as one in which the individual
immerses herself in the music, dedicating her attention to percep-
tual, cognitive, and affective interpretation based on the formal
properties of the perceptual experience. We identify here three
main outcomes: first, emotion recognition (e.g., “this song is sad”)
and induction (e.g., “I feel nostalgic”); second, aesthetic judgment
(e.g., “this song is beautiful”); and third, liking (e.g., “I like this
song”) and preference (e.g., “I love rock & roll”). As noted by
Juslin et al. (2010), not all of these outcomes may be present but
typically they combine to form a genuine aesthetic situation: The
presence of a music-induced emotion is not sufficient for an
aesthetic experience (p. 636). We examine the kinds of emotion
induced by music before reviewing research on the different psy-
chological and neural mechanisms involved in the generation of
emotion by music. In doing so, we emphasize the need to take
account not only of the properties of the music, but also the listener
and listening situation on the aesthetic experience (Hargreaves &
North, 2010).
The relevance of a scientific approach to the aesthetics of music
is debated. While some philosophers of aesthetics have embraced
psychological and neuroscientific research (e.g., Carroll, Moore, &
Seeley, 2011; Meyer, 1956; Robinson, 2005), others argue that
neuroscience has nothing to tell us about aesthetic questions (e.g.,
Tallis, 2008). Equally, although some scientists argue that “aes-
thetic philosophy is receding to a sideline ‘advisory’ role, while
cognitive science takes an unaccustomed leadership position” (Hu-
ron, 2010, p. 151), here we try to build an interdisciplinary frame-
work for delineating a neuroaesthetics of music that explicitly
includes philosophical, psychological, neuroscientific, and evolu-
tionary approaches.
Emotions in Musical Experience
Increasing neuroscientific interest in affective processes has
spread to the neurosciences of music. However, research to date
has been limited primarily to the most common emotions encoun-
tered also in everyday life, such as happiness or sadness, and their
role in mood regulation. Indeed, musical emotions are either
interpreted with reference to the categorical framework of “basic”
emotions, supposedly universal affective states, panculturally rec-
ognized and necessary for species survival (Ekman, 1999; Peretz,
2010), or to general dimensional models of emotion (e.g., Russell,
1980; Schimmack & Grob, 2000), in which emotions are locations
within a continuous 2-D or 3-D affective space. It has been
suggested, however, that music generates emotions of a special
kind, qualitatively different from goal-oriented, common (or util-
itarian) emotions (Scherer & Zentner, 2008), although there is little
neuroscientific research to date on such aesthetic emotions.
Basic Emotions
Much research on music and emotion has been inspired by work
on the categorical perception of facial emotion (Ekman, 1999).
This framework identifies basic (or primary) emotions such as
happiness, sadness, anger, fear, and disgust, which, it is argued, are
panculturally recognized and are associated with innate motor and
physiological responses. Music may express and induce these
basic emotions in individuals of all ages, including infants, and
across many cultures (Peretz, 2010), although within a safe aes-
thetic environment, the negative emotions lose some of their
aversive character (Juslin & Västfjäll, 2008).
The amygdala plays a central role in the processing of salient
negative emotions, fear in particular, induced by aversive stimuli.
The amygdala also seems to be a crucial brain structure for
perception and recognition of fear in music, because patients with
medial temporal resection encompassing the amygdala, and one
patient with bilateral amygdala damage, confused scary music with
peaceful music while showing intact perceptual skills (Gosselin et
al., 2007; 2005). The amygdala is activated by sad and dissonant
music (contrasted with emotionally neutral and consonant music,
respectively; Koelsch, Fritz, von Cramon, Muller, & Friederici,
2006; Mitterschiffthaler, Fu, Dalton, Andrew, & Williams, 2007;
Trost, Ethofer, Zentner, & Vuilleumier, 2012) and even by single
unpredictable chords (Koelsch, Fritz, & Schlaug, 2008), indicating
that further research is needed to isolate the role of the amygdala
in musical listening (Koelsch, 2010).
Sad emotions associated with slow minor classical piano pieces
activated the left medial frontal gyrus (BA 10) and the adjacent
superior frontal gyrus (BA 9) when compared with happy major
49
THE NEUROAESTHETICS OF MUSIC
and fast pieces (Khalfa, Schon, Anton, & Liegeois-Chauvel, 2005).
These regions were also activated during aesthetic judgment of
pictures (Jacobsen, Schubotz, Hofel, & Cramon, 2006) and
rhythms (Kornysheva, von Cramon, Jacobsen, & Schubotz, 2010),
suggesting that their activation might reflect subjective preference
for minor pieces rather than sadness per se. In a functional MRI
(fMRI) study of emotional responses to classical music, Mitter-
schiffthaler et al. (2007) found no regions activated by sad com-
pared with happy music, but did find activation in the hippocam-
pus/amygdala for sad compared with neutral music. Again, this
study did not control for the effects of preference.
Turning now to positive emotions such as happiness, Mitter-
schiffthaler et al. (2007) found that happy classical music induced
activation of the ventral striatum compared with neutral music.
Compared with sad music, happy music activated left superior
temporal gyrus (BA 22), a region of the nonprimary auditory
cortex, devoted to integrating sounds over longer time spans as
opposed to the primary auditory cortex, and hence processing more
abstract aspects of sounds. In a recent study, Brattico et al. (2011)
confirmed these findings in music from several genres (pop, jazz,
classical) and also found activation of the limbic insula, adjacent to
the superior temporal gyrus. A contrast between sad music and
happy music indicated recruitment of the caudate nucleus, respon-
sible for the preparation of the chill response according to Salim-
poor, Benovoy, Larcher, Dagher, and Zatorre (2011), and of the
left thalamus, associated in many previous studies with processing
of sad facial expressions (Fusar-Poli et al., 2009). In sum, musical
emotions activate some brain structures previously associated with
emotions induced by visual stimuli: this partial overlap in neural
processing may facilitate crossmodal transfer of emotions, such as
the modulation of neural processing of neutral faces during listen-
ing to happy music (Logeswaran & Bhattacharya, 2009).
Dimensional Models of Emotion
Dimensional models attempt to identify a series of dimensions
capable of representing all possible emotional states. In theory, the
dimensional structure should be rich enough to represent the basic
emotions as points in the space. The most widely known dimen-
sional model of emotion is the circumplex model (e.g., Russell,
1980, 2003), which distinguishes valence (pleasure-displeasure)
and arousal (activating-relaxing) as two orthogonal dimensions of
an emotional experience. This model has been applied to music in
many behavioral and neuroscientific studies (e.g., Krumhansl,
1997; North & Hargreaves, 1997; Schmidt & Trainor, 2001; Vie-
illard at al., 2008). A variant on this approach (Schimmack &
Grob, 2000) includes the three dimensions of valence (pleasant-
unpleasant), arousal (awake-tired), and tension (tense-relaxed). In
applying this model to music, Ilie and Thompson (2006) found that
loudness and tempo increased judgments of arousal and tension
while loudness and pitch height increased pleasantness. In a study
of excerpts of film music, Eerola and Vuoskoski (2011) found that
participants were able to correctly discriminate examples differing
in the three dimensions, and noted that removing tension did not
impair the fit of the model. Eerola and Vuoskoski also found that
the categorical model of basic emotions (Krumhansl, 1997) is
inferior to the dimensional model (including energy, tension/
arousal and valence as dimensions) in characterizing emotionally
ambiguous examples.
In an fMRI study of emotional responses to excerpts of classical
music, Trost et al. (2012) report differences in arousal and valence
were reflected by changes of activation in the reward and limbic
system (including the striatum, ventral tegmental area, and orbito-
frontal cortex for valence and the ventromedial prefrontal cortex
and the subgenual cingulate for arousal), with additional effects in
brain areas related to memory, motor control, and self-reflective
processes for musical arousal (Trost et al., 2012). There is further
evidence for the role of physiological arousal in the aesthetic
experience as proposed by Berlyne (1971). Increases in electro-
dermal activity, generated by the sympathetic autonomic nervous
system, are greater while listening to energetic than relaxing music
(Khalfa, Peretz, Blondin, & Robert, 2002) and by unexpected
compared with expected chords (Steinbeis, Koelsch, & Sloboda,
2006). According to Hargreaves and North (2010), the arousal
level of the autonomic nervous system predicts liking for music
and leads to finer grained emotional responses related to the
listener’s engagement with the music (e.g., feeling excited, bored
or unsettled). However, these predictions await experimental neu-
roscientific research.
In view of the ongoing debate about the extent to which dimen-
sional models of emotion can encompass categorical emotions
(Eerola & Vuoskoski, 2011; Gosselin et al., 2007; Khalfa et al.,
2008; Vieillard et al., 2008), the challenge for proponents of these
models is to identify the smallest number of dimensions capable of
representing all distinguishable emotional states. It is not clear, for
example, that the circumplex model is capable of sufficiently
distinguishing closely related emotions such as anger and fear. In
an aesthetic context, one difficulty with existing dimensional mod-
els is that they equate valence with pleasure, which would seem to
preclude the possibility of finding a frightening or sad (negative
valenced) experience of music enjoyable. Schubert (1996) pro-
poses that we enjoy negative emotions in music by inhibiting
displeasure thanks to the “safe” aesthetic context that nullifies the
possible dangerous consequences associated with real everyday
negative emotions (see also Huron, 2006). Therefore, we suggest
using valence to indicate positive and negative affective character
and including pleasure or enjoyment as an extra dimension (see
also the discussion of aesthetic emotions below). We also propose
a finer distinction between different types of pleasure: immediate
sensory pleasure and a more reflective process of enjoyment
although empirical research has yet to tease apart these two dif-
ferent kinds of pleasure.
As a final comment, we note that dimensional models are
fundamentally unable to accommodate the possibility of mixed
emotions combining the extremes of a single dimension, such as
feeling happy and sad at the same time (Hunter, Schellenberg, &
Schimmack, 2008).
Aesthetic Emotions
Scherer and Zentner (2008) distinguish between aesthetic and
utilitarian emotions: aesthetic emotions differ from their utilitarian
counterparts by occurring in situations that do not trigger self-
interest or goal-directed action. They argue that music-induced
emotion reflects a multiplicative function of structural features of
the music, listener features, performer features and contextual
features leading to distinct kinds of emotion such as wonder,
transcendence, entrainment, tension and awe. In a series of related
50
BRATTICO AND PEARCE
studies with over a thousand subjects from adolescents to elderly
individuals, Zentner, Grandjean, and Scherer (2008) identified
nine factors underlying the adjectives used retrospectively to de-
scribe felt and expressed musical emotions: wonder, transcen-
dence, tenderness, nostalgia, peacefulness, power, joy, tension,
sadness (embodied in the Geneva Emotional Music Scale; GEMS).
These factors include specifically aesthetic emotions (e.g., tension,
transcendence) but also emotions (e.g., sadness and joy), which
also arise in nonaesthetic contexts.
Three aesthetic emotions that have attracted the most detailed
research are awe, nostalgia, and enjoyment. Aesthetic awe has
been identified as a crucial characteristic distinguishing a peak
aesthetic experience of music from everyday casual listening (Ga-
brielsson, 2010). Awe is a rare aesthetic emotion triggered by very
beautiful music, outstandingly performed in an optimal acoustic
environment, such as a medieval cathedral (Konecni, 2005). An-
other important aesthetic emotion is nostalgia induced while lis-
tening to a piece of music. Using a novel paradigm for eliciting
autobiographical memories of songs, Janata (2009) presented sub-
jects with a pop/rock repertoire dating back several years. Corre-
lations between individual ratings of autobiographical relevance
and changes in brain metabolism showed that dorsal regions of the
medial prefrontal cortex are crucial for experiencing nostalgia
induced by music.
In music neuroscience, the aesthetic emotion of enjoyment has
been investigated by focusing on the chill reaction. Possibly the
most thoroughly studied aesthetic experience of music, chills cor-
respond to physiological changes such as goose bumps and shivers
down the spine, also referred to as frisson or thrills. Although not
everyone experiences chills during musical listening or playing,
those who experience them do so relatively frequently and reliably
(Panksepp, 1995; Sloboda, 1992). In addition to being easy to
record behaviorally, chills have the additional advantage of pro-
ducing characteristic physiological markers including changes in
heart rate, breath depth, and skin conductance (e.g., Blood &
Zatorre, 2001). People who score highly on openness tend to
experience chills to music (McCrae, 2007; Nusbaum & Silvia,
2011), and this effect appears to be mediated by the degree to
which people listen to and value music in their everyday lives
(Nusbaum & Silvia, 2011). However, age, gender, and music
education appear to have no influence on the experience of chills
(Grewe, Kopiez, & Altenmueller, 2009). Turning to the experience
itself: chills are associated with increased subjective emotion and
physiological arousal (Grewe et al., 2009) and are usually experi-
enced as highly pleasurable (Goldstein, 1980; Panksepp, 1995;
Sloboda, 1992).
In a pioneering study, Blood and Zatorre (2001) attempted to
determine the neural correlates of the chill experience by asking
musically trained subjects to bring their chill-evoking music to the
lab and using the pieces of other subjects as the control stimulus.
When correlating the metabolic brain responses measured by pos-
itron emission tomography (PET) with ratings of emotional inten-
sity, it was found that the strongest chill responses activated the
bilateral insula, the left ventral striatum (including the nucleus
accumbens), the right orbitofrontal cortex (BA 14), the medial
anterior cingulate and supplementary motor area (BA 6), the right
thalamus and the left midbrain whereas they down-regulated the
right amygdala, the left anterior hippocampus/amygdala forma-
tion, and the bilateral medial prefrontal cortex (BA 10/32). Indeed,
highly pleasant, familiar music enhances connectivity between the
ventral tegmental area and the nucleus accumbens, and between
this latter area and the hypothalamus, pointing toward pleasure-
related responses in the autonomic nervous system (Blum et al.,
2010; Menon & Levitin, 2005; Salimpoor et al., 2011; Sutoo &
Akiyama, 2004). Salimpoor et al. (2011) have recently shown that
chills are associated with dopamine release in the ventral striatum
and with activation of the nucleus accumbens while the caudate
nucleus is activated during anticipation of a passage of music
inducing chills.
Further evidence for the link between dopamine release and
intense musical pleasure comes from the reduction of the chill
reaction in music by naloxone, an opioid antagonist, whose trans-
mission in the nucleus accumbens is associated with dopamine
release in the ventral tegmental area (Goldstein, 1980). In addition,
exposure to Mozart’s music in rats improves dopaminergic trans-
mission in the neostriatum, as indicated by decreased systolic
blood pressure (Sutoo & Akiyama, 2004). The ventral striatum of
the basal ganglia, including the nucleus accumbens, which controls
dopamine release in the ventral tegmental area, is associated with
reward, pleasure and motivation derived from primary activities
necessary for survival (e.g., eating, sex), and plays a central role in
the transition to habitual drug use (Haber, 2009). The fact that such
ancient survival-related circuitry is modulated so efficiently by an
abstract stimulus such as music argues for the adaptive evolution-
ary status of music making (Brattico, Brattico, & Jacobsen, 2009
2010; Cross, 2003; Huron, 2003; Justus & Hutsler, 2005). It has
been claimed that music has beneficial functions in cohesion,
mother–infant interaction and mate choice (Wallin, Meyer, &
Brown, 2000) but one cannot reject the alternative hypotheses that
music appreciation is a spandrel exapted from a collection of
abilities originally adapted for other reasons or else that it origi-
nated through mechanisms of biological evolution, such as genetic
drift, gene flow, or nonrandom mating, not entailing any adaptive
function (Brattico et al., 2009 –2010).
Despite the physiological and evolutionary salience of a central
aesthetic emotion such as musical pleasure, Juslin and colleagues
(2010) argue against the existence of aesthetic emotions claiming:
first, that defining them as emotions associated with art is not
informative; and second, that defining them as lacking goals and
action-oriented coupling does not make them unique to music.
Similarly, Koelsch (2010; see also Koelsch, Offermanns, & Fran-
zke, 2010) describes music-induced emotions as “real” emotions
because they activate the same brain structures that are involved in
everyday affective states and rejects their association with aes-
thetic experiences “lacking motivational components and goal
relevance” (p. 131). According to Juslin and Västfjäll (2008),
music may evoke emotions more frequently than other kinds of
events, but the emotions themselves are indistinguishable from
everyday emotions.
To address these questions, recent empirical research has com-
pared the GEMS model with the dimensional model. In a study of
emotional responses to film music, Vuoskoski and Eerola (2011)
found that a dimensional model (Schimmack & Grob, 2000)
showed better consistency among participants and was better able
to discriminate the musical excerpts than the GEMS model. There-
fore, the GEMS model, which was constructed using classical
instrumental music, may not reflect the aesthetic experiences of
listeners to other musical styles. In a recent fMRI study of indi-
51
THE NEUROAESTHETICS OF MUSIC
viduals listening to classical music, Trost et al. (2012) found
evidence for grouping the 9 GEMS factors into higher-order af-
fective dimensions distinguished by arousal and valence, with
some evidence for a finer categorization (e.g., vitality, unease,
sublimity).
Research on the aesthetic emotions, therefore, presents a some-
what mixed picture. Following Sloboda (2010), we suggest that
musical experiences in everyday contexts can induce basic emo-
tions, such as sadness, happiness, and fear (which sometimes reach
intensities comparable to those triggered by life events), while
musical experiences in aesthetic situations as defined above can
generate special kinds of emotion that are distinct from the other
aesthetic outcomes (judgment and preference) but interact with
them to produce an aesthetic experience. Key challenges for re-
search in neuroaesthetics are to recreate the right experimental
conditions for inducing a genuine aesthetic experience and to
understand which minimal set of dimensions are required to rep-
resent adequately both utilitarian and aesthetic emotional re-
sponses to music.
How Does Music Generate Emotions?
The relationship between music and emotion is “the much-
vexed question that has been at the centerpiece of musical aesthet-
ics since . . . the late 18th century” (Kivy, 2006, p. 288). The rise
of instrumental music and subsequently program music in 18th-
and 19th-century Europe generated a debate between referential-
ists, such as Hegel and Wagner, and formalists, such as Hanslick
and Stravinsky. The debate centered on the question of whether
music possesses referential content such that musical structures
designate nonmusical entities such as physical objects, individuals,
or feelings. This prompted Hanslick (1954) to argue that the
aesthetic function of music is not to induce emotion: music cannot
represent definite feelings (which have objects) because it cannot
represent the thoughts that support these feelings; it can represent
dynamic changes in intensity of such feelings but not as properties
of specific emotions since other phenomena also share such dy-
namic changes. Hanslick argues instead that the aesthetic effects of
music are specifically musical:
The most significant factor in the mental process which accompanies
the comprehending of a musical work and makes it enjoyable . . .
is the mental satisfaction which the listener finds in continuously
following and anticipating the composer’s designs, here to be con-
firmed in his expectations, there to be agreeably led astray. It goes
without saying that this mental streaming . . . occurs unconsciously
and with the speed of lightning. Only such music as brings about and
rewards this mental pursuing . . . will provide fully artistic satisfac-
tion. (Hanslick, 1954, p. 64)
Meyer (1956) argued that this debate had been founded on a
spurious association of referentialism with expressionism: the fact
that referentialists tend to be expressionists does not render ex-
pressionism incompatible with formalism. Meyer sought to de-
velop a formalist account of emotional expression in music
founded on the psychological process of expectation which creates
patterns of tension and resolution, which, in turn, generate affec-
tive states such that violations of expectation are negatively va-
lenced, indicating predictive failure (Meyer, 1956, p. 27).
In their review, Juslin and Västfjäll (2008) emphasize the im-
portance of distinguishing emotion perception, where a listener
perceives or recognizes emotions expressed in the music, and
emotion induction, where music evokes an emotion in the listener.
They go on to identify six psychological processes supporting the
induction of emotions by music. First, brain-stem reflexes (origi-
nating from areas such as the inferior colliculus) mediate the
induction of arousal by sudden, loud, dissonant or rapidly pulsing
sounds. Second, in evaluative conditioning, music can induce
emotion through association, as a conditioned stimulus, with an
aversive or rewarding stimulus. Third, musical structures may
induce emotion through emotional contagion, by mimicking other
means of emotional expression such as language, posture and gait.
Fourth, music may invoke emotions through the use of structures
with close external referents in the sensorium thereby evoking
visual imagery (e.g., a storm). Fifth, music may evoke emotion
through the intermediary of an episodic memory associated with
the music (“Darling, they’re playing our tune”). Finally, the gen-
eration and violation of expectations can induce experiences of
tension, release, surprise, and uncertainty.
Here we focus on the psychological mechanisms most specific
to musical aesthetic experience, and also most studied by neuro-
scientists: brainstem mechanisms (such as those producing the
dissonance sensation), emotional contagion or imitation, and ex-
pectation.
Sensory Dissonance
Of the brainstem mechanisms discussed by Juslin and Västfjäll
(2008), most attention has been paid to sensory consonance and
dissonance, which have long been used by composers and musi-
cians in Western and non-Western cultures to manipulate aesthetic
responses to music. Two sounds played simultaneously are disso-
nant, experienced as beating amplitude modulation or roughness,
when their physical distance is smaller than two-thirds of the
critical bandwidth stimulating neighboring hair cells in the basilar
membrane and causing neurons in the cochlear nucleus and brain-
stem to fire without properly resolving the two sounds (Kameoka
& Kuriyagawa, 1969; Peretz, 2010; Plomp & Levelt, 1965). On
reaching the primary auditory cortex, the signal causes neurons to
resonate at the beat frequency (Fishman et al., 2001), generating
more neuronal activity than consonant sounds (Brattico, Näätänen,
Verma, Välimäki & Tervaniemi, 2000; Brattico et al., 2009;
Schön, Regnault, Ystad, & Besson, 2005). These sensory re-
sponses to dissonant sounds are coupled with an affective experi-
ence of irritation, whose neural basis seems to rely on the para-
hippocampal gyrus, a brain region responsible for withdrawal
behavior, and the amygdala, associated with salience and negative
affect (Blood et al., 1999; Gosselin et al., 2006; Koelsch et al.,
2006). It is interesting to note that a clear-cut lateralization of the
parahippocampal gyrus during listening to affective classical mu-
sic was observed by Trost et al. (2012): the left parahippocampal
gyrus was recruited by highly arousing music whereas the right
parahippocampal gyrus was activated by tender and nostalgic
music with low arousal. In turn, the soothing sensation of conso-
nance is usually described as an absence of dissonance, but some
identify it as an active process involving reward centers in the
brainstem and ventral striatum (Blood et al., 1999; Braun, 1999;
Koelsch et al., 2006; Tramo, Cariani, Delgutte, & Braida, 2003). A
motor circuit, including the rolandic operculum, probably related
to the automatic impulse to imagine singing during pleasant music,
52
BRATTICO AND PEARCE
is also activated while nonmusicians listen to consonant music
(Koelsch et al., 2006).
Musical Reference and Imitation
Hence . . . it becomes possible for motion in music to imitate the
peculiar characteristics of motive forces in space . . . And on this, as
I believe, essentially depends the power of music to picture emotion.
(Helmholtz, 1985, p. 370)
By virtue of imitation (emotional contagion and visual imagery
in Juslin & Västfjäll, 2008), musical structures can denote or refer
to external entities of two kinds: first, physical objects and events;
second, subjective states such as emotions via their behavioral
effects. The former include overt references to birdsong, thunder-
storms, and the like, although this form of referential semantics is
severely limited in scope to phenomena clearly identified by some
auditory pattern (there is no musical structure which could unam-
biguously denote a castle, for example). For similar reasons, it is
difficult for a musical structure to unambiguously denote an emo-
tional state (although see the section on expectations below).
However, by virtue of its temporal and spatial structure (pitch is
often expressed and understood in spatial terms), a piece of music
can exhibit characteristics that refer, more or less unambiguously,
to behavioral expressions of emotion. Perhaps the best-known
advocate of this approach is Kivy (1989), who argues that instru-
mental music can be expressive of specific emotions by imitating
aspects of emotional speech, gesture, facial expression, gait, and so
on. Thus, a slow, ponderous piece of music can be expressive of
sadness, while a fast piece with high, ascending melodic contours
can be expressive of lighter emotions. Other authors such as
Davies (1994) and Langer (1953), also propose imitation theories
of musical expression.
Clarke (2005) discusses apparent motion resulting from changes
in musical structure from the perspective of Gibsonian affordances
(Gibson, 1979), and several neuroimaging studies have reported
activation of brain structures controlling movements or imagining
actions while listening to music, especially when it is pleasurable
(Alluri et al., 2012; Koelsch et al., 2006; Pereira et al., 2011).
Strikingly, Koelsch, Kasper, Sammler, Schulze, Gunter, and Frie-
derici (2004) report a semantic priming task with target words
presented visually after spoken sentences or a musical excerpt,
which showed comparable late negative electrophysiological re-
sponses (N400) to target words following semantically unrelated
linguistic or musical contexts, demonstrating that music may im-
itate some qualities of objects (e.g., ascending pitch scales for
staircases), contain gestural cues (e.g., a cry) or describe a concept
(such as hero for a symphony by Beethoven). These findings have
been replicated for single chords varying in pleasantness (Steinbeis
& Koelsch, 2008) and for single sounds varying in timbre (Grieser-
Painter & Koelsch, 2010).
A formalist such as Hanslick would question the specificity with
which these imitative characteristics of music can reliably and
exclusively express particular well-defined emotional states and
Kivy himself no longer defends this particular theory of how music
acquires its expressive properties (Kivy, 2002). Acknowledging
that not all examples of musical expression can be explained by
imitation, Kivy (1989) proposes a second mechanism based on
convention. Thus, in Western tonal music the association of the
minor mode with negative valence, and the activation in brain
structures classically associated with negative visual emotions
such as the amygdala, thalamus and brain stem (Brattico et al.,
2011; Green et al., 2008; Pallesen et al., 2005), may derive from
the conventional association of this mode with, for example, sad
lyrics, slow tempi, and so on.
Expectation
Hanslick (1954), Helmholtz (1985), and Meyer (1956) have
argued that musical enjoyment is linked with patterns of tension
and resolution resulting from the confirmation and violation of
perceptual expectations of which we are usually unconscious.
These expectations might concern, for example, the pitch of the
next note in a melody, the next chord in a pattern of harmonic
movement, or the timing of the next note in a solo percussion
performance. In each case, the preceding context of the music sets
up expectations (or predictions) in the mind of the listener for what
is to happen next.
Recent research suggests that expectations in music are acquired
through a process of statistical learning in which listeners construct
implicit probabilistic models of the next element in a musical
sequence given the preceding context both at psychological (Hu-
ron, 2006; Meyer, 1957; Oram & Cuddy, 1995; Pearce & Wiggins,
2006; Tillmann, Bharucha, & Bigand, 2000) and neural levels
(Loui, Wu, Wessel, & Knight, 2009; Kim, Kim, & Chung, 2011;
Pearce, Ruiz, Kapasi, Wiggins, & Bhattacharya, 2010). Electro-
physiological research has identified characteristic neural re-
sponses to violations of harmonic expectation, including an early
right anterior negativity (ERAN) peaking at around 180-ms post-
stimulus (Koelsch, Kilches, Steinbeis, & Schelinski, 2008; Stein-
beis et al., 2006). The amplitude of this component is related to the
long-term transition probability of the chord (Kim et al., 2011;
Loui et al., 2009). In an electroencephalography (EEG) study of
listeners to hymn melodies, Pearce et al. (2010) examined oscil-
latory and phase responses to high and low probability notes
predicted by a complex variable-order probabilistic model of pitch
expectation. Violations of expectation increased phase synchrony
across a wide network of sensor locations and generated charac-
teristic patterns of beta-band activation in the superior parietal
lobule, previously associated with tasks involving auditory-motor
interaction, suggesting that violations of expectation may stimulate
networks linking perception with action.
Huron (2006) proposes a framework for linking expectations
based on statistical learning to aesthetic responses. He distin-
guishes three responses to an event: first, a prediction response
evaluating whether the event conforms to prior expectations; sec-
ond, a reaction response, a fast, automatic, subcortical affective
reaction; and third, an appraisal response, a more leisurely, cor-
tically mediated process of consideration and assessment. Positive
emotions resulting (via the prediction response) from anticipatory
success are misattributed to the stimulus itself, leading to a pref-
erence for predictable events while the stress resulting from sur-
prising events, as an indicator of maladaptive anticipatory failure,
activates fast fight, flight, or freeze responses and provides nega-
tive feedback for the learning processes that generated the predic-
tion. How is it then that surprise can be enjoyable even though it
is associated with negative emotion resulting from the failure to
correctly anticipate the future event? According to Huron (2006),
an event that is unexpected but ultimately innocuous induces a
53
THE NEUROAESTHETICS OF MUSIC
negative prediction response that increases, via a process of con-
trastive valence, the relatively positive limbic effect of the subse-
quent reaction or appraisal responses.
There is some empirical evidence to support the theory that the
confirmation/violation of expectations is capable of leading to
aesthetic experiences. In behavioral studies, probabilistic measures
of stimulus predictability produce inverted U-shaped profiles of
subjective pleasantness and beauty in simple tone sequences (Vitz,
1966; Crozier, 1974) and predict the historical popularity of mu-
sical works (Simonton, 1980, 1987). Turning to the bodily effects
of expectations, empirical research has shown that unexpected
chords produce greater physiological arousal as indexed by skin
conductance, than expected chords (Koelsch, Kilches, et al., 2008;
Steinbeis et al., 2006).
Violations of expectation may also be related to the chill re-
sponse, discussed above, because it tends to be associated with
unexpected harmonies, sudden dynamic or textural changes, or
other new elements introduced in the music (Grewe, Nagel, Ko-
piez, & Altenmuller, 2007; Sloboda, 1991). Familiarity is also a
significant influence on chills (Grewe et al., 2009) such that people
are less likely to experience chills to unfamiliar music (see below
for more on the effects of familiarity on aesthetic experience). This
raises a criticism that is often leveled at Meyer’s theory: if emotion
and meaning are conveyed by expectation, how is it possible for
one to enjoy a familiar (i.e., expected) piece of music (Budd,
1985)? From a psychological perspective, there appears to be a
difference between veridical expectations based on explicit knowl-
edge of a work, and schematic expectations based on years of
implicit learning through exposure (Bharucha, 1987). It appears to
be impossible for us to “switch off” our schematic expectations
even when we know consciously what is about to happen (just as
we are unable to consciously influence our perception of certain
visual illusions even when we know them to be illusions).
Huron (2006) suggests that contrastive valence may also be
capable of generating pleasurable experiences of awe and laughter
as well as chills although these claims await detailed neuroscien-
tific study.
Aesthetic Judgments
It is possible to have an aesthetic experience without making an
aesthetic decision or judgment about the stimulus causing that
experience. When we do make an aesthetic judgment (consciously
or unconsciously), such as when we decide that an object is
beautiful, research in visual neuroaesthetics suggests that areas in
the prefrontal regions of the brain, and specifically the dorsolateral
prefrontal and orbitofrontal cortex, are activated (Nadal, Munar,
Capo, Rossello, & Cela-Conde, 2008). Ventromedial prefrontal
cortex is thought to be crucial for judgmental processes based on
affective valence of stimuli such as in aesthetic context (Damasio,
1996; Kringelbach, 2005). Activation in orbitofrontal cortex has
been found in tasks involving judging the beauty of paintings
(Kawabata & Zeki, 2004), black-white abstract shapes (Jacobsen
et al., 2006), and faces (Aharon et al., 2001).
Several neuroimaging studies of musical listening confirm the
role of the orbitofrontal cortex in positive affective experiences
associated with aesthetic judgments of preference or beauty for
music (Alluri et al., 2012; Blood & Zatorre, 2001; Blood et al.,
1999; Brattico et al., 2011; Pereira et al., 2011). For example,
judging the beauty of a rhythmic sequence activated the ventro-
medial prefrontal cortex when contrasted with judging the tempo
of the sequence (Kornysheva et al., 2010). In a recent fMRI study
(Ishizu & Zeki, 2011), a finer localization of the area involved in
beauty judgments of both musical pieces and paintings was ob-
tained: activation in a very small region of the medial OFC, the A1
field, correlated with the intensity of beauty experienced. Expertise
also modulates beauty judgments of music: Müller et al. (2010)
found enhanced emotion-related neural processing for beauty
judgments compared with cognitive judgments in nonmusicians
but not in musicians, suggesting the latter make less use of emotion
and rely on other strategies in making aesthetic judgments.
The dorsomedial midbrain nuclei, belonging to the dopaminer-
gic reward circuit of the brain, are also activated by consonant
chords judged as beautiful, irrespective of their major or minor
keys, when contrasted with dissonant chords judged as ugly (Su-
zuki et al., 2008). In addition, Kornysheva et al. (2010) report the
activation of ventral premotor cortex and cerebellum to rhythmic
patterns judged as beautiful contrasted with those judged as non-
beautiful. The involvement of these motor regions in beauty judg-
ments of music may reflect the powerful ability of beautiful music
to entrain behavioral responses such as song and dance (see
Calvo-Merino and Christensen, this issue, pp. 76 88).
Preference
Another important outcome of the musical aesthetic experience
is preference, which differs from enjoyment or subjective pleasure
(with which it is often identified) in that it includes making a
decision about the stimulus as a whole. Such a decision typically
occurs after listening to an entire piece of music and may endure
long after the listening episode. This decision may be based on the
intensity of enjoyment, on an aesthetic judgment related to beauty
or other formal properties of the stimulus (but it can also be
divergent and independent from such judgment), and on other
intrapersonal factors related to the listening history of an individ-
ual or her current mood or personality. Schubert (2007) demon-
strated that induction of any emotion (negative or positive) by
music predicts preference: the more we are moved by music, the
more we like it. Another predictor of preference is the gap between
the emotion expressed by the music (external locus) and emotion
felt by the listener (internal locus): when we listen to a sad piece
of music we may recognize the sad expression but not feel sad
ourselves (a large gap) but preference tends to be higher when the
gap between emotional loci is minimal (Schubert, 2007). Finally,
Vuoskoski and Eerola (2011) observed that individuals character-
ized by high trait empathy tend to show higher preference and feel
sadder than less highly empathetic individuals when listening to
sad music.
There is evidence that musical preference activates lateralized
brain networks. A pioneering electroencephalography study by
Altenmüller, Schurmann, Lim, and Parlitz (2002) identified left-
lateralized frontotemporal responses when listeners preferred clas-
sical, pop or jazz excerpts lasting 15 s, and right-lateralized ante-
rior responses when they disliked them (neutral music generated
bilateral brain responses). In a subsequent EEG and fMRI study
(Flores-Gutierrez et al., 2007), preferred 30-s excerpts by Bach and
Mahler similarly activated left-hemispheric regions, including He-
schl’s gyrus, middle temporal gyrus and cuneus, whereas disliked
54
BRATTICO AND PEARCE
excerpts by a contemporary composer generated brain responses in
the bilateral inferior frontal gyrus and insula. An electrophysio-
logical study with isochronous chord cadences (Brattico, Jacobsen,
De Baene, Glerean, & Tervaniemi, 2010) revealed a distinction
between neural mechanisms for liking judgments and judgments of
correctness, reflected by a late positive potential, peaking at
around 1100 ms after the decisive sound. A subsequent EEG study
(Istók et al., 2012) applied to real commercial pop/rock music
showed that the late positive potential was also elicited by pre-
ferred music but only when subjects were doing a genre-
classification task and not during the liking task, probably because
the affective brain response in the liking task was not time-locked
to the stimulus.
Although these studies have made important initial advances,
further neuroscientific research is urgently required on the neural
basis of musical preferences and the factors that determine them
(Schubert, 2010).
Modulatory Influences on Aesthetic Experience
We have argued that an aesthetic experience of music involves
an emotional experience, a judgment of beauty (or other formal
qualities) and a verdict of liking or preference. To these, we add
familiarity with the stimulus and attention as psychological mech-
anisms modulating the affective and cognitive responses to music
in an aesthetic situation.
Familiarity
It has been proposed that the hedonic influence of subjective
predictability (or complexity) can account for both the mere ex-
posure effect (Zajonc, 1968), where enjoyment and related liking
judgments increase with increasing exposure, and the boredom
effect (Cantor, 1968), where enjoyment and liking decrease with
increasing exposure. With greater exposure, increasing familiarity
ought to reduce perceived predictability with concomitant
U-shaped effects on hedonic value (Crozier, 1974; Vitz, 1966).
Heyduk (1975), for example, obtained subjective ratings of com-
plexity and liking for four piano compositions finding an
inverted-U function relating the two. In a subsequent experiment in
which one of the pieces was repeated 16 times, decreases in liking
with repeated presentation were more common among those indi-
viduals for whom the complexity of the composition exceeded
their preferred level (as ascertained in the first study), while
increases or inverted-U functions of liking were more likely in
those for whom the stimulus complexity was lower than their
preferred level. North and Hargreaves (1997), however, report a
positive linear relationship between liking and familiarity for pop
music excerpts. In explaining this result, they suggest that inverted
U-shaped functions should not be found when individuals have
control over their exposure to a stimulus, when only the positive
monotonic portion of the inverted U-shaped function should be
observed.
A recent fMRI study demonstrated the close connection be-
tween familiarity and hedonic musical experiences; Pereira et al.
(2011) report activation of limbic and paralimbic areas including
the nucleus accumbens to familiar music (contrasted with unfa-
miliar music), but only minimal activation when contrasting liked
musical pieces with disliked ones, regardless of familiarity. These
findings suggest that familiarity is one of the strongest influences
on emotional and hedonic responses in the brain. Familiarity with
music affects neural responses even at the level of the brainstem
and auditory cortex. For instance, individuals with formal musical
education show more accurate neural processing of chords that are
atypical in Western tonal music, whereas discrimination in the
auditory cortex of prototypical minor chords is comparable be-
tween musicians and nonmusicians (Brattico et al., 2009). Reber,
Wurtz, and Zimmermann (2004) argued that the valence of aes-
thetic response is determined by the ease and speed with which a
stimulus can be processed: the more fluent the processing, the
more pleasant the experience. Given this, we might predict that if
musical training improves auditory processing ability, musicians
would show a preference for more complex musical styles (e.g.,
atonal music; cf. Brattico et al., 2009). Professional classical
musicians also possess reinforced expectations for sounds follow-
ing Western tonal rules, showing larger inferior frontal brain
response (the ERAN discussed above) to unexpected chords in a
sequence, compared with nonmusicians (Koelsch, Schmidt, &
Kansok, 2002; although for discrepant findings with folk musi-
cians, see Brattico et al., under revision). Children 5 and 6 years of
age show similar reactions to unexpected chords, indicating that a
few years of passive exposure to Western tonal music are suffi-
cient to form a neural representation of harmonic syntax, although
not as clearly or accurately as in older adults or in musicians
(Koelsch, Fritz, Schulze, Alsop, & Schlaug, 2005). It remains to be
seen whether these effects of stylistic familiarity, and ease of
processing, impact on the aesthetic experience of music.
Functional neuroimaging studies have further investigated the
neural structures involved in long-term memory for a particular
piece. In a PET study, Satoh, Takeda, Nagata, Shimosegawa, and
Kuzuhara (2006) found that familiarity judgments of piano melo-
dies generated activation in the anterior portion of bilateral tem-
poral lobes, posterior portion of superior temporal gyri, anterior
and posterior portion of the medial frontal lobes, the bilateral
cingulate gyri, the left inferior frontal gyrus, and the left superior
temporal gyrus. In an fMRI study, Peretz et al. (2009) found that
familiar melodies activated the bilateral superior temporal sulcus
more than identical reversed melodies. Plailly, Tillmann, and
Royet (2007) compared responses with familiar classical music
excerpts and odors, finding activation for familiar over unfamiliar
music in several left-hemisphere regions, including superior and
medial frontal gyri, precentral gyrus, and superior temporal sulcus,
posterior cingulate gyrus, and supramarginal gyrus. Multimodal
areas activated by both familiar music and odors included superior
and inferior frontal gyri, angular gyrus, precuneus and parahip-
pocampal gyrus, suggesting that these areas are involved in neural
circuits underlying the experience of familiarity during an aes-
thetic or hedonic experience regardless of sensory modality.
Attention
Attention is central to a musical aesthetic experience because
the listener must concentrate on the music in order to appreciate
the emotions and memories induced by it, judge whether it is
beautiful or well performed, and decide on its aesthetic value.
Several neuroimaging studies of musical listening have reported
the involvement of the superior parietal lobule, the precuneus, and
other parietal structures related to the ventral network for stimulus-
55
THE NEUROAESTHETICS OF MUSIC
driven attention (e.g., Fan, McCandliss, Fossella, Flombaum, &
Posner, 2005), and to the default-mode network, constantly mon-
itoring and integrating the external environment (Raichle & Sny-
der, 2007). In addition, while neural processes related to the
extraction of sound features, their integration into auditory objects
(e.g., the pitch categories of the chromatic scale) and their main-
tenance in sensory memory are fast and automatic (Brattico, Ter-
vaniemi, Naatanen, & Peretz, 2006), analyzing the conformity of a
chord sequence to the rules of Western tonal harmony, an impor-
tant part of aesthetic appreciation, requires the allocation of atten-
tional resources (Loui, Grent-’t-Jong, Torpey, & Woldorff, 2005;
Maidhof & Koelsch, 2011). Neuroimaging studies confirming the
role of attention in a musical aesthetic experience remain to be
conducted, but research in the visual domain on the importance of
contemplation (Höfel et al., 2007) suggests a similar role for
attentive processing in the auditory modality.
Reprise: Establishing a Neuroaesthetics of Music
We have proposed a framework for developing a neuroaesthet-
ics of music in which music is viewed as an expressive art rather
than as a cognitive domain sharing properties with language, as is
often the case in the neurosciences of music. This interdisciplinary
approach emphasizes the interplay between perceptual, affective
and cognitive processes that generate aesthetic responses, includ-
ing emotions, judgments and preference. Our approach is broadly
compatible with the model of Leder et al., (2004) proposed for
understanding aesthetic experiences of visual art and further de-
veloped for musical aesthetic experience by Brattico et al. (sub-
mitted). Regarding perceptual analysis, we have reviewed research
on several properties of music, which are thought to be involved in
aesthetic experience of music (including the effects of sensory
dissonance, imitation and expectation) and how these generate
emotional states. The induction of emotion by music can lead to
states of variable enjoyment but these are not sufficient for an
aesthetic experience per se, which typically also requires an ap-
preciation of the properties of the music that determine the expe-
rience, an aesthetic judgment of how beautiful it is and a decision
about how much we like it. The state of the listener and the
listening context combine with the music to determine these judg-
ments. Regarding implicit memory integration of these features,
we have reviewed research suggesting that processing of these
features is modulated by attention, familiarity and expertise. The
field remains in its infancy, taking its first steps toward legitimate
scientific status. As a way of assessing its current state, we recall
the five tests of a healthy research paradigm suggested by Sloboda
(1986, p. 199).
First, an established paradigm must have “an agreed set of
central problems.” Sloboda (1986) himself identifies two central
questions in music psychology: What is the nature of musical
knowledge or representation? And how does music have emotional
and aesthetic effects? Assuming a neuroscientifc approach to mu-
sic, we can view the second of these questions as the proper topic
for the neuroaesthetics of music, the first being appropriate for the
cognitive neuroscience of music. For more detailed questions, we
propose that the set of problems distinguishing the neuroaesthetics
of music from other areas of study can come from the field of
neuroaesthetics, established in the late 90s by Zeki (1999) and
whose research agenda is steadily maturing (e.g., Chatterjee, 2011;
Livingstone & Hubel, 2002; Nadal & Pearce, 2011). The central
questions of neuroaesthetics are to understand how and why (in an
evolutionary sense) the human brain enables the capacity for
appreciating and creating artifacts that are experienced as aes-
thetic. A neuroaesthetics of music would address a strong bias in
the current literature on neuroaesthetics toward visual art to the
virtual exclusion of other sensory modalities. In defining and
delimiting the central questions of a neuroaesthetics of music, it
will be profitable to examine the philosophical literature of musi-
cal aesthetics (e.g., Carroll et al., 2011; Robinson, 2005) and
research in empirical aesthetics (e.g., Berlyne, 1971; Wundt,
1874).
The second condition for a healthy paradigm is, according to
Sloboda, “agreed methods for working on these problems,” which,
in the case of neuroaesthetics of music, are largely borrowed from
neighboring disciplines, and particularly cognitive neuroscience
and experimental psychology. One factor that distinguishes the
field, however, is a concerted effort to focus on real-world musical
examples in real-world settings so as to reliably induce aesthetic
experiences. In a methodological attempt to simulate an ecologi-
cally valid situation, for example, Alluri et al. (2012) implemented
a nonconventional analysis of the continuous fMRI signal corre-
lated with the acoustic features extracted from an 8-min piece of
music (Adios Nonino by A. Piazzolla). In this way, they were able
to identify large-scale brain networks involved in processing of
timbral, tonal, and rhythmic features during online musical listen-
ing.
The third condition proposed by Sloboda is “agreed theoretical
frameworks in which to discuss [the research problems]”. We
acknowledge that this is work in progress but we have aimed here
and elsewhere (Brattico et al., submitted) to propose a theoretical
framework for establishing a context within which future empirical
results and theoretical observations within the neuroaesthetics of
music may be assessed.
The fourth condition for a healthy research paradigm requires
“techniques and theories which are specific to the paradigm.” We
have argued above that although it inherits from music psychol-
ogy, the neuroaesthetics of music is distinguished from the cog-
nitive neurosciences of music by a focus on emotion and aesthetics
rather than cognitive representation and processing. Furthermore,
although it inherits from neuroaesthetics, the neuroaesthetics of
music is distinguished from the neuroaesthetics of art by its subject
which is a complex multidimensional, auditory signal extended in
time and processed in distinct neural pathways from visual stimuli.
These distinctions call, to take one example, for a specific focus in
a neuroaesthetic of music on the role of time: a piece of music
cannot be viewed as a static entity but rather one that unfolds in
time, generating and manipulating expectations and interpretations
in order to induce an aesthetic experience.
Finally, Sloboda calls for “research which is appropriate to the
whole range of phenomena in the domain being studied.” As a
field in its infancy, it is clear that the neuroaesthetics of music can
only develop with further empirical research, which will, in turn,
further clarify its status as an independent field of research and its
relationships with neighboring disciplines. As a stimulus to this
process of maturation, we suggest that one of the most pressing
issues is to identify those topics and questions from the traditional
and empirical aesthetics of music (taking a broad view of these
disciplines), which can benefit from a neuroscientific approach, as
56
BRATTICO AND PEARCE
well as to formulate new questions and hypotheses that could not
have been developed within existing traditional frameworks. With
this in mind, we propose the following central questions for the
field. Which neural regions and mechanisms are involved in the
experience of aesthetic emotions to music? To what extent are they
distinct from the neural mechanisms of basic emotions? What is
the neural basis of imitative processes in music perception? Is
there a cross-modal component to these processes and how is this
reflected in neural processing? Is attentive contemplation during
listening necessary to induce an aesthetic emotion? Can an under-
standing of underlying neural processes help to clarify how unex-
pected musical events can produce the pleasurable experiences of
chills, awe and laughter? What are the relationships, at the cogni-
tive and neural levels, between judgments of liking, beauty, pref-
erence and sensory pleasure: are they synonymous, functionally
related, or completely independent? At what stage of infancy do
aesthetic emotions, preference, and aesthetic judgments appear in
the maturing brain and what are their developmental trajectories?
Is motor-cortex recruitment a precondition for a hedonic experi-
ence of music? Can the effects of the listening context and aes-
thetic attitude be identified at the level of neural processing?
We know from psychological research (e.g., Hargreaves &
North, 2010) that aesthetic experience depends on the listener
(e.g., expertise, internal state, mood, personality, attitude) and
listening situation (e.g., social context, concurrent tasks) as well as
the music (e.g., sensory dissonance, timbre, congruency with for-
mal rules) but much work remains to be done on the underlying
neuroscience of how these influences combine to generate an
aesthetic experience. Perhaps most crucially, we feel it is funda-
mentally important for researchers in neuroaesthetics to try to
replicate all facets of the aesthetic experience so as to encourage a
genuine aesthetic judgment based both on a fully immersed emo-
tional experience and a focused analysis of the formal properties of
a musical work. In doing so, the neuroaesthetics of music can
develop an understanding that will have significant practical im-
plications. Music is widely used to induce emotions and regulate
mood (Thayer, Newman, & McClain, 1994; Särkämö et al., 2008),
and music therapy is increasingly being investigated for treatment
of affective and psychiatric disorders (Erkkila et al., 2008; Erkkila
et al., 2011): a deeper knowledge of the neural mechanisms in-
volved in the aesthetic experience of music will help put these
clinical developments on a sound scientific footing.
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Received May 22, 2011
Revision received August 23, 2012
Accepted September 5, 2012
61
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