Former Max Planck Research Group Neurocognition of Music

During the last years, music has increasingly been used as a tool for the investigation of human cognition and its underlying brain mechanisms. Music is one of the oldest, and most basic socio-cognitive domains of the human species. It is assumed that human musical abilities played a key phylogenetical role for the evolution of language, and that music making behaviour covered important evolutionary functions such as communication, cooperation, social cohesion and group coordination. Likewise, it has been shown that, ontogenetically, infants’ first steps into language are considerably based on prosodic information, and musical communication in early childhood (such as maternal music) may play a major role for emotional, cognitive, and social development of children.

Music is a ubiquitous phenomenon: throughout human history, in every human culture, people have played and enjoyed music. Only humans learn to play musical instruments, and only humans play instruments cooperatively together in groups. Making music in a group is a tremendously demanding task for the human brain that engages virtually all cognitive processes that we know about: Amongst others, it involves perception, action, cognition, social cognition, emotion, learning, and memory. This richness makes music an ideal tool to investigate the workings of the human brain.

When we listen to music, the auditory information passes through different processing stages until it possibly elicits bodily reactions, and until a musical percept becomes conscious. Our group investigates the different modules of music perception. Our work relates operations of different modules to ERP components (thus being able to provide information about the time course of their activity), and investigates where in the brain some of these modules might be located.

Go to Editor View