In Finland at the University of Turku, researchers in the national PET Centre recently discovered neural mechanisms that arise as an emotional response to music. Subjects who participated in the study (102) listened to emotion-evoking music while undergoing functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).

To map which brain regions are activated based on different music-inducing emotions, researchers created a machine-learning algorithm. Postdoctoral Researcher Vesa Putkinen said, “Based on the activation of the auditory and motor cortex, we were able to accurately predict whether the research subject was listening to happy or sad music. The auditory cortex process the acoustic elements of music, such as rhythm and melody.  Activation of the motor cortex, then again, may be related to the fact that music inspires feelings of movement in the listeners even when they are listening to music while holding still in an MRI machine.”

Specific brain regions are activated when humans watch videos that evoke strong emotions. This was better discerned by the researchers who tested whether the same areas were activated while listening to music that evokes emotions. The results indicate that emotions evoked by film and sounds are based on different brain synapses.

Real-life situations are mimicked in films, which activate the deeper parts of the brain that regulate emotions. These regions were not strongly activated while listening to music, nor did it separate the music-induced emotions from one another. Researchers hypothesize this difference stems from the fact that films are more realistic in portraying real-life events that evoke emotions and brain synapses; cultural influences and personal history impact music-induced emotions based on music’s acoustic characteristics.  

In the past, music-induced emotions have been studied through classical instrumental music. Putkinen stated, “We wanted to use only instrumental music in this study as well, so that lyrics did not impact the emotions of the research subjects. However, we included film music and songs by the guitar virtuoso Yngwie J. Malmsteen.”

Click here to see a video showing how brains reacted while listening to the song “Far Beyond the Sun,” performed by Yngwie J. Malmsteen, which was used in the study. For further reading, check out the original press release from the University of Turku, published in the Cerebral Cortex Journal. To participate in their latest experiment called, “Music-Induced Emotions           in the Body,” check out Onni.  

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