Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Which brain areas are involved in listening?

It's a persistent myth to think that music is processed solely in the right hemisphere. This week yet another study shows that, even when the processes are restricted to listening alone, virtually the whole brain is involved.

A Finish research group led by Petri Toiviainen found that music listening recruits not only the auditory areas of the brain, but also employs large-scale neural networks. They could show that the processing of musical pulse recruits motor areas in the brain, supporting the idea that music and movement are closely intertwined. Limbic areas of the brain, known to be associated with emotions, were found to be involved in rhythm and tonality processing. Processing of timbre was associated with activations in the so-called default mode network, which is assumed to be associated with mind-wandering and creativity.

Adapted from Stewart et al. (2009) Oxford Handbook of Music Psychology. 

As said, this study is not alone in this. In a recent chapter Laurel Stewart and colleagues made a similar claim based on a review of a vast amount of literature. In the figure above (redrawn from the original) the circles indicate the areas where more than 50% of the existing literature agrees that they are involved. (N.B. it is good to realize these areas are actually part of whole networks, and not just single locations.) And here again, if you look at the brain networks involved in listening, you’ll notice that virtually the whole brain is involved.

ResearchBlogging.orgAlluri, V., Toiviainen, P., Jääskeläinen, I., Glerean, E., Sams, M., & Brattico, E. (2011). Large-scale brain networks emerge from dynamic processing of musical timbre, key and rhythm NeuroImage DOI: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2011.11.019

ResearchBlogging.orgStewart L, von Kriegstein K, Warren JD, & Griffiths TD (2006). Music and the brain: disorders of musical listening. Brain : a journal of neurology, 129 (Pt 10), 2533-53 PMID: 16845129


  1. i agree with the post
    nice post

  2. Now, roughly ten years later, new intriguing evidence to the contrary has been provided by Albouy et al. (2019): http://doi.org/10.1126/science.aaz3468