Thursday, 10 Jul, 2008 Science

Our Brain Enjoys More When Music is Played Live by a Musician rather than a Computer


Brain Enoys MusicAccording to the study performed by the University of Sussex, music can calm much better if it is played by real musicians rather than computers. Neuroscientists analyzed the reaction of the brain to the piano sonatas, which were played by a musician and a computer. They discovered that, though computerized music did get some response from the brain – mainly to unpredicted changes of the chords – the effect was not as strong as the response to the same melody played by a professional pianist.

Dr. Stefan Koelsch, a senior research fellow in psychology, was the one to lead the research, being supported by his colleagues at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, located in Leipzig. The scientists played a number of extracts from classical piano sonatas to 20 people, who were not professional musicians, and made records of the brain responses, as well as reactions of the skin conductance, which fluctuate with sweat production as a result of emotional reaction.

Despite the fact that the participants did not have any experience in playing musical instruments and considered themselves to be unmusical, their brains had a clear reaction to musical changes (including unexpected chords and modifications in tonal key). Such reactions show that the brain was able to understand musical grammar. The reaction of the brain was much sharper when the classical piano sonatas were played by professional musicians.

"It was interesting for us that the emotional reactions to the unexpected chords were stronger when played with musical expression. This shows us how musicians can enhance the emotional response to particular chords due to their performance, and it shows us how our brains react to the performance of other individuals," mentioned Dr. Koelsch.

During the study the researchers were also able to discover that when a classic composition was played by a real musician, human brain was more likely to search for musical meaning.

"This is similar to the response we see when the brain is responding to language and working out what the words mean. Our results suggest that musicians actually tell us something when they play. The brain responses show that when a pianist plays a piece with emotional expression, the piece is actually perceived as meaningful by listeners, even if they have not received any formal musical training," said Dr. Koelsch.

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