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Amygdala activity can be modulated by unexpected chord functions during music listening

Koelsch, Stefana b; Fritz, Thomasa; Schlaug, Gottfriedc

doi: 10.1097/WNR.0b013e32831a8722

Numerous earlier studies have investigated the cognitive processing of musical syntax with regular and irregular chord sequences. However, irregular sequences may also be perceived as unexpected, and therefore have a different emotional valence than regular sequences. We provide behavioral data showing that irregular chord functions presented in chord sequence paradigms are perceived as less pleasant than regular sequences. A reanalysis of functional MRI data showed increased blood oxygen level-dependent signal changes bilaterally in the amygdala in response to music-syntactically irregular (compared with regular) chord functions. The combined data indicate that music-syntactically irregular events elicit brain activity related to emotional processes, and that, in addition to intensely pleasurable music or highly unpleasant music, single chord functions can also modulate amygdala activity.

aJunior Research Group Neurocognition of Music, Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Science, Leipzig, Germany

bDepartment of Psychology, University of Sussex, Brighton, UK

cDepartment of Neurology, Music and Neuroimaging Laboratory, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School, Boston, USA

Correspondence to Stefan Koelsch, PhD, Leader Independent Junior Research Group, Max-Planck-Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Stephanstr. 1a 04103 Leipzig, Germany

Tel: +49 341 355 217 11; fax: +49 341 355 217 30; e-mail:

Received 14 September 2008; accepted 23 September 2008

© 2008 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.