ResearchBlogging.orgWell, I can’t answer that question. But in a related matter, Koelsch et al. ask, in a new paper published in PLoS ONE, Why Musicians Make Us Weep and Computers Don’t? … obviously, they have not met my computer.

The study investigates the somatic effects of “…unexpected chords of piano sonatas as they were originally arranged by composers, and as they were played by professional pianists.” This was compared with rote non-emotional playing of the music. The somatic effects investigated included event-related brain potentials (ERPs), skin conductance responses (SCRs) and heart rate (HR).

These results show that the neural mechanisms of music-syntactic processing operate independently of the emotional qualities of a stimulus, justifying the use of stimuli without emotional expression to investigate the cognitive processing of musical structure. Moreover, the data indicate that musical expression affects the neural mechanisms underlying the processing of musical meaning. Our data are the first to reveal influences of musical performance on ERPs and SCRs, and to show physiological responses to unexpected chords in naturalistic music.

This is a bit thick. My understanding of the findings of this study is that brain effects (measured in the study) respond to syntactic factors in the music (playing the wrong cord, etc.) while emotional factors in the music caused the listener’s skin to crawl. These two linkages between cause and effect seem to be relatively independent of one another.

As the authors put it:

Thus, the present results suggest that (a) the neural mechanisms underlying the generation of both ERAN and N5 are involved in the processing of real naturalistic music, (b) music-syntactic processing as reflected in the ERAN is a cognitive process which is independent of the emotional qualities of a stimulus, (c) emotional effects of the processing of unexpected chords are slightly stronger when elicited by expressive music, and (d) that musical expression affects the neural mechanisms underlying harmonic integration and processing of musical meaning.

And, in case you missed it, have a look at the winner of the Funniest Thing on the Internet award for June 2008:

Koelsch, S., Kilches, S., Steinbeis, N., Schelinski, S., He, S. (2008). Effects of Unexpected Chords and of Performer’s Expression on Brain Responses and Electrodermal Activity. PLoS ONE, 3(7), e2631. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0002631


  1. #1 Bill Watson
    July 11, 2008

    This reminds me of P.D.Q. Bach’s observation that “we all love the Crimea – both the region and the river.”