Mirror neurons and musical goal-directed actions
Specific neurons in the pre-motor and parietal cortex respond when people are observing goal-directed actions of others, not only when these actions are observed visually, but also when they are perceived aurally. These neurons are called ‘mirror neurons’ and the phenomenon is called ‘cerebral resonance behaviour’.
It stands to reason to assume that mirror neurons play an important part in learning a language, especially because mirror neurons also appear in the Broca’s area, an area of the brain often associated with speech. But they probably also play a role in the representation of musical goal-directed actions. Then mirror neurons would not only be activated in singing or playing, but also in hearing music. The listening would be directly linked to the ‘programming’ of movements necessary to perform the music.
Most people are able to sing a melody they hear without difficulty. Instrumentalists on the other hand are frequently unable to play what they hear, relying mainly on notes, while others are not only able to play by ear but also to transpose what they play to any key. The implication is that some musicians activate their mirror neuron system while listening while others do not and that the movements they make while playing are represented differently in the brain.
PhD Research Project Cerebral Resonance
Robert Harris - Schedule Cerebral Resonance Behaviour
Robert Harris - Presentation non-score dependency
To test this hypothesis, fMRI scans will be made of the brain while musicians are listening to music excerpts. The subjects will be recruited from both groups of musicians: those who are able to play by ear and those who cannot. The research will be performed at the NeuroImaging Centre of the University of Groningen under supervision of Dr. B.M. de Jong of the department of Neurology of the UMCG (University Medical Centre Groningen).
In connection with his PhD Research Robert Harris attended the conference Neurosciences and Music in Scotland in June 2011. Subject of the conference was the relationship between the Neurosciences and Music - Learning and Memory. This conference was a continuation of the previous meetings on the subject, in which organisers of the conference, the Mariani Foundation for Paediatric Neurology, participated as well. The earlier conferences have generated excitement among establised and new researchers. Because of the opportunities to present new research results and exchanging informaton the meetings have contributed substantially to the growth of new research and collaborations in the neuroscience of music and to its visibility within the broader scientific community.
Location: Edinburgh, Scotland, UK, Assembly Hall & The Hub
Researcher Robert Harris
Personal page Robert Harris
Research Results 2011
The Role of Cerebral Resonance Behavior in the Control of Music Performance
In this fMRI study, a group of skilled musicians and a group of musically unskilled controls listened to recordings of two-part tonal harmony during acquisition of fMRI images. While listening, subjects were asked either to imagine playing the piece themselves (condition 1: motor imagery) or to comment on the performance (condition 2: attentive listening). Half of the pieces was familiar, half was unfamiliar.
Preliminary results of a twenty-subject, second-level, factorial analysis comparing non score-dependent musicians with musically unskilled controls indicate that, in non score-dependent musicians, premotor-parietal networks normally involved in motor planning are activated not only during motor imagery but also, to a lesser extent, during attentive listening, without respect to the familiarity of the music heard.
Cerebral activations during a motor Imagery task: Non score-dependent vs. musically unskilled controls (p<0.05(FDR) k=8)
Cerebral activations while listening to unfamiliar music: Non score-dependent vs musically unskilled controls (p<0.05 (FDR) k=8)
This study confirms the results of previous research which had demonstrated the existence of a shared network of brain areas involved in listening, producing, and imagining musical excerpts. This network includes motor, premotor, and supplementary motor cortices, inferior parietal lobule and superior temporal gyrus (for a review, see Fadiga, Craighero & d’Ausilio 2009). Proper training has been shown to enhance activation of this network.
Previous research examined this shared network in the context of extremely simple melodic patterns and/or well-practiced excerpts. In addition, no attempt was made to distinguish between subpopulations of score-dependent and non score-dependent performers. In this study, it has been shown that non score-dependent musicians exhibit activation of this shared network even while listening to or imagining unknown excerpts of a complex polyfonic and harmonic character. The fact that this shared network is susceptible to training make these findings relevant to the field of instrumental education.