Emotions and musical structure

Numerous studies have examined the brain regions involved in processing music’s affective content in the context of Basic emotions (such as Happiness, Sadness, Fear) as well as the Circumplex dimensions (Arousal and valence). These studies implicate a distributed neural network of structures located in medial and lateral, temporal and frontal areas (e.g. Omigie et al., 2014; 2015. See Koelsch, 2014 for a review). However, the extent to which these regions may also be involved in mediating listeners’ expectations regarding the unfolding structure of music remains an important question.

Depth electrode recordings from patients implanted for surgical intervention allow insights into the role and behavior of a range of cortical and subcortical structures during musical processing. In a first part of the project, the neural activity underlying the expectancy of musical pitch structure is being investigated. Use is made of a statistical learning model of melodic expectancy (Pearce, 2005) in order to examine whether the Information content (IC) of a given note (a measure of its structural predictability, given the preceding context, where high IC is equivalent to low probability) modulates the flow of information within and between medial and lateral structures in the frontal and temporal lobe. In a second part of the project, more complex expectancies based on a combination of acoustic and musical features will be examined.

The current work will broaden our understanding of one of the key mechanisms by which emotions are held to be induced during music listening.

External research partner: Diana Omigie (MSc in Music, Mind & Brain, Goldsmiths, University of London)

Posters and Presentations

Omigie, Diana. Emotion processing network activated by musical stimuli. Brain Circuits for Positive emotions. Ascona, October 2014.

Omigie, Diana. Intracranial evidence of the modulation of the emotion network by musical pitch structure predictability. Geneva, July 2015.


Omigie, D., Dellacherie, D., Hasboun, D., George, N., Clement, S., Baulac, M., Adam, C. & Samson, S. ( 2014). An Intracranial EEG Study of the Neural Dynamics of Musical Valence Processing. Cerebral Cortex. [Epub ahead of print]

Omigie, D., Dellacherie, D., Hasboun, D., Clément, S., Baulac, M., Adam, C., Samson, S. (2015). Intracranial markers of emotional valence processing and judgments in music. Cognitive Neuroscience, 6, 16-23.