Cross-cultural music phrase processing: An fMRI study

The current study used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to investigate the neural basis of musical phrase boundary processing during the perception of music from native and non-native cultures. German musicians performed a cultural categorization task while listening to phrased Western (native) and Chinese (non-native) musical excerpts as well as modified versions of these, where the impression of phrasing has been reduced by removing the phrase boundary marking pause (henceforth called "unphrased"). Bilateral planum temporale was found to be associated with an increased difficulty of identifying phrase boundaries in unphrased Western melodies. A network involving frontal and parietal regions showed increased activation for the phrased condition with the orbital part of left inferior frontal gyrus presumably reflecting working memory aspects of the temporal integration between phrases, and the middle frontal gyrus and intraparietal sulcus probably reflecting attention processes. Areas more active in the culturally familiar, native (Western) condition included, in addition to the left planum temporale and right ventro-medial prefrontal cortex, mainly the bilateral motor regions. These latter results are interpreted in light of sensorimotor integration. Regions with increased signal for the unfamiliar, non-native music style (Chinese) included a right lateralized network of angular gyrus and the middle frontal gyrus, possibly reflecting higher demands on attention systems, and the right posterior insula suggesting higher loads on basic auditory processing.

Selected Publications

Yun Nan, Thomas R. Knösche, Stefan Zysset, and Angela D. Friederici, "Cross-cultural music phrase processing: An fMRI study," Human Brain Mapping 29 (3), 312-328 (2008).

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