Music and emotion: electrophysiological correlates of the processing of pleasant and unpleasant music

Sammler, D.1,2, and Koelsch, S.2
1University of Leipzig, Germany; 2Max Planck Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, Leipzig, Germany

Music is a powerful tool in the investigation of emotion. The purpose of the present study was to investigate oscillations during the processing of pleasant and unpleasant music. Subjects were presented with joyful musical excerpts and their manipulated dissonant counterparts to induce pleasant and unpleasant emotions. Participants were asked to listen carefully to the music, to tap the metre and to rate how (un)pleasant they felt after each piece of music. Furthermore, the experiment comprised silence periods to enregister a baseline condition. Behavioral data show that participants felt rather pleasant during the presentation of consonant musical excerpts, while dissonant pieces mainly induced unpleasant emotions. Contrasting the power spectra of music vs. rest, data show an overall delta synchronization, a frontal theta synchronization and a frontal beta desynchronization during the listening condition, probably reflecting different aspects of auditory processing and attention. Motor activity due to the finger tapping was reflected by left central alpha and beta desynchronization and a right parietal alpha synchronization. Contrasting the processing of pleasant and unpleasant musical excerpts, we found left frontal power differences within the delta and the upper alpha band. Results indicate that spectral analysis provides an appropriate method for systematically illuminating the underlying correlates of emotion processing, motor activity and perceptual processing during the listening to music.