Music in the brain

Music In The Brain

Music in the Brian
Scientists have long wondered if the human brain contains neural mechanisms specific to music perception. Now, for the first time, MIT neuroscientists have identified a neural population in the human auditory cortex that responds selectively to sounds that people typically categorize as music, but not to speech or other environmental sounds. Illustration: Christine Daniloff/MIT

For the first time, scientists identify a neural population highly selective for music in the brain. “It has been the subject of widespread speculation. One of the core debates surrounding music is to what extent it has dedicated mechanisms in the brain and to what extent it piggybacks off of mechanisms that primarily serve other functions,” says Josh McDermott, the Frederick A. and Carole J. Middleton Assistant Professor of Neuroscience in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at MIT.

“The music result is notable because people had not been able to clearly see highly selective responses to music before,” says Sam Norman-Haignere, a postdoc at MIT’s McGovern Institute for Brain Research.

“Our findings are hard to reconcile with the idea that music piggybacks entirely on neural machinery that is optimized for other functions, because the neural responses we see are highly specific to music,” says Nancy Kanwisher, the Walter A. Rosenblith Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at MIT and a member of MIT’s McGovern Institute for Brain Research

Anne Trafton | MIT News Office
December 16, 2015

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