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The music of silence. Part II: Music Listening Induces Imagery Responses

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The music of silence. Part II: Music Listening Induces Imagery Responses

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Abstract

During music listening, humans routinely acquire the regularities of the acoustic sequences and use them to anticipate and interpret the ongoing melody. Specifically, in line with this predictive framework, it is thought that brain responses during such listening reflect a comparison between the bottom-up sensory responses and top-down prediction signals generated by an internal model that embodies the music exposure and expectations of the listener. To attain a clear view of these predictive responses, previous work has eliminated the sensory inputs by inserting “artificial” silences (or sound omissions) that leave behind only the corresponding predictions of the thwarted expectations. Here we demonstrate a new alternate approach in which we decode the predictive EEG responses to the silent intervals that are naturally interspersed within the music. We did this as participants (experiment 1: twenty participants, ten female; experiment 2: twenty-one participants, 6 female) both listened or imagined Bach piano melodies. Prediction signals were quantified and assessed via a computational model of the melodic structure of the music, and were shown to exhibit the same response characteristics when measured during listening or imagining. These include an inverted polarity for both silence and imagined responses relative to listening, as well as response magnitude modulations that precisely reflect the expectations of notes and silences in both listening and imagery conditions. These findings therefore provide a unifying view that links results from many previous paradigms, including omission reactions and the expectation modulation of sensory responses, all in the context of naturalistic music listening. SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT: Music perception depends on our ability to learn and detect melodic structures. Our brain has been suggested to do so by actively predicting upcoming music notes, a process inducing instantaneous neural responses as the music confronts these expectations. Here we studied this prediction process using EEG recorded while participants listen to and imagine Bach melodies. Specifically, we examined neural signals during the ubiquitous musical pauses (or silent intervals) in a music stream, and analyzed them in contrast to the imagery responses. We find that imagined predictive responses are routinely co-opted during ongoing music listening. These conclusions are revealed by a new paradigm using listening and imagery of naturalistic melodies.

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