Mini-Science 2014 Q&A: “Your Brain on Music”

Mini-Science logoAt the conclusion of each Mini-Science lecture, audience members submit their questions to the evening’s presenter. If there is not enough time to answer them all on the spot, some of the other unanswered questions are sent to the presenter for posting here. Here are questions from Prof. Daniel Levitin’s lecture, “Your Brain on Music” (April 2, 2014).

Q: How do you explain people who hear music as “noise” because they think it has no musical characteristics?

A: This comes back to genetic variability—some people don’t have the genes to make sense of musical structure. In other cases, it could be that an individual was denied access to music during a critical period of development, say ages 1–8.

Q: When there are words to music (i.e., when it is not just an abstract pattern) are the circuits leading to emotional centres different?

A: Words activate different emotional centers than just music, and different aspects of our emotions. They cause us to reflect on our own life in relation to that of others, a process called self-referencing. And of course, words have explicit and referential meaning that music lacks and the semantic centers of the brain become activated differently when there are no lyrics. That’s assuming the lyrics aren’t just nonsense, like “nananana”.

Please visit the Mini-Science website for more information about the lecture series.

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