Study examines the brain regions most active when experiencing music-induced emotions

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), a group of researchers at the University of Turku were able to uncover the neural mechanisms and regions of the brain most active when music-induced emotions occur.

As described in the journal Cerebral Cortex, music can invoke strong emotional responses as a result of specific neural activity in the brain involving the auditory and motor cortex.

Close to 100 participants were recruited and instructed to listen to instrumental music while researchers conducted fMRI tests. The instrumental music included happy, fearful, and sad-themes in an effort to thoroughly understand the effects the music-induced emotions on the brain.

“Multivariate pattern analysis (MVPA) was used to reveal discrete neural signatures of the four categories of music-induced emotions. To map neural circuits governing non-musical emotions, the subjects were scanned while viewing short emotionally evocative film clips,” wrote Vesa Putkinen, co-author of the study.

“The GLM revealed that most emotions were associated with activity in the auditory, somatosensory, and motor cortices, cingulate gyrus, insula, and precuneus. Fear and liking also engaged the amygdala. In contrast, the film clips strongly activated limbic and cortical regions implicated in emotional processing. MVPA revealed that activity in the auditory cortex and primary motor cortices reliably discriminated the emotion categories.”

The findings point to distinct operation of mechanisms in the brain that are triggered by film or music invoked emotions.

“Our results indicate that different music-induced basic emotions have distinct representations in regions supporting auditory processing, motor control, and interoception but do not strongly rely on limbic and medial prefrontal regions critical for emotions with survival value,” the co-authors concluded.

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