Imagining a song triggers similar brain activity as moments of silence in music: Study

brain activity

Several new studies show that simply imagining a song activates the same regions of the brain as that of silence in music. By studying the results, it is found that the brain’s response to music continues even when it is not playing.

Music encourages our brains to create expectation as we await the next part of the song. When a surprise occurs, such as a loud sound or discordant chord, activity in the brain increases. Nonetheless, because it also responds to actual sensory data, isolating the brain’s prediction signal is a difficult task.

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The study was published in the journal JNeurosci.

Di Liberto, Marion, and Shamma used electroencephalography to record musicians’ brain activity as they listened to or imagined Bach piano melodies. The activity associated with imagining music was diametrically opposed to the activity associated with listening to music, meaning that when one was positive, the other was negative.

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The same type of activity occurred during the songs’ silences, when statistically a note should have been present, but wasn’t. Because there is no sensory input during silence and imagined music, this activity is predicted by the brain.

Additionally, the research team decoded brain activity to ascertain which song was being imagined. The researchers discover that music provides the brain with more than a sensory experience. Rather than that, the brain continues to make predictions even when no music is playing.


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