Prediction under uncertainty: Neural correlates of New music

This subproject investigates the neural mechanisms that contribute to the appreciation of contemporary classical music (CCM). The neuroscientific research on musical pleasure has so far focused on Western tonal music. It has been associated with activity in the limbic system, distinguishing two main neural activity patterns, probably reflecting phases of either anticipation or peak experience. This has led researchers to the notion that predictive mechanisms are central for inducing emotions and arousal in music listening, in particular due to the generation of predictions and their violations.


This study will investigate to what extent prediction mechanisms play the same role during a pleasurable listening experience with contemporary classical music – as opposed to Western tonal music – and what kind of predictions are be generated in this style of music at all. The difficulty of anticipating the musical process in contemporary classical music probably impedes the creation of expectations that lead to predictions. This study investigates how both short-term exposure and long-term expertise with CCM modulates predictive models and what role these play in the experience of musical pleasure. What kind of pleasure is derived from CCM compared to the pleasure arising from classic-romantic music is an unanswered question.

This project is being carried out in collaboration with Elvira Brattico, Peter Vuust, Niels Trusbak Haumann and David Quiroga Martinez (Center for Music in the Brain, Aarhus University, Denmark,



To answer these questions we employ an approach that uses tonal and non-tonal piano pieces as stimuli for the experiment. Until recently, the majority of research in this field has used artificially designed music stimuli in order to control musical features. However, in order to achieve greater ecological validity, artificial sound sequences are likely to be insufficient, especially when it comes to exploring the music aesthetic experience.


In the context of neuroscientific research this experimental paradigm is associated with the term “Free-listening”. By means of EEG (electroencephalography) or MEG (magnetoencephalography) electrical brain potentials are measured in response to the music. Subsequently the event-related potentials (ERPs) are correlated with the acoustic properties of the music, which are extracted through computer-based analyses. Due to the high temporal resolution of M/EEG, this methodological approach is ideally suited for the exploration of complex, time-unfolding phenomenon such as music, and represents a promising and innovative method for fundamental research in the field of empirical musical aesthetics.