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Scientists discover how playing music alters how the brain processes multiple sensory stimuli [Print to PDF] [Print to RTF]

It has long been established that pianists develop a particularly acute sense of the temporal correlation between the movements of the piano keys and the sound of the notes played. However, researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics in Germany have di...
Scientists discover how playing music alters how the brain processes multiple sensory stimuli
It has long been established that pianists develop a particularly acute sense of the temporal correlation between the movements of the piano keys and the sound of the notes played. However, researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics in Germany have discovered that when it comes to assessing the synchronicity of lip movements and speech, pianists are no better at the task than their tone-deaf, non-musician counterparts.

Study authors HweeLing Lee and Uta Noppeney came to this conclusion after carrying out a comparative study on simultaneous brain processing of stimuli from different senses by both musicians and non-musicians. They used functional magnetic resonance imaging in their study to map the areas of the brain that were active during this process.

The researchers looked at how the brain integrates stimuli from several senses at once and how the circuits in the brain change as a result of learning. They looked at how well 18 amateur pianists were able to perceive the temporal coincidence between finger movements on the piano keys and a piece of piano music, and between lip movements and spoken sentences as compared with 19 non-musicians.

According to their findings, when pianists perceive asynchronous music and hand movements, this triggers increased error signals in a circuit involving the cerebellum, premotor and associative areas of the brain - a reaction that is refined over time by practicing the piano. The study results prove that our sensorimotor experience influences the way in which the brain temporally links signals from different senses during perception.

The experiments reveal that the pianists were significantly more accurate than the non-musicians in assessing whether the finger movements on the piano and the sounds heard coincided temporally or not. But these differences were not observed when it came to the experiments involving spoken sentences and lip movements as both groups recorded similar results.

Although asynchronicity in language and music concerns the same areas of the brain, the team's scans showed that with the pianists asynchronous music triggered a stronger signal in a circuit involving the left cerebellum, a premotor and associative region in the cerebral cortex than in the non-musicians.

Co-author Uta Noppeney says: 'For this study, we availed of the fact that the pianists specifically train in an activity, in which several sensory stimuli, that is visual and auditory information, movement and the striking of the piano keys, have to be connected. The processing of stimuli in the brains of the pianists points to a context-specific mechanism: as a result of their piano practice, a forward model involving the cerebellum and premotor cerebral cortex is programmed in the circuit which enables the individual to make far more precise predictions about the correct temporal sequence of the visual and auditory signals. An asynchronous stimulus triggers prediction error signal.'
Source: Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics

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Record Number: 34068 / Last updated on: 2011-11-25
Category: Miscellaneous
Provider: EC