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  Uncertainty and surprise jointly predict musical pleasure and amygdala, hippocampus, and auditory cortex activity

Cheung, V. K. M., Harrison, P. M. C., Meyer, L., Pearce, M. T., Haynes, J.-D., & Koelsch, S. (2019). Uncertainty and surprise jointly predict musical pleasure and amygdala, hippocampus, and auditory cortex activity. Current Biology, 29(23), 4084-4092.e4. doi:10.1016/j.cub.2019.09.067.

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Cheung, Vincent Ka Ming1, Author              
Harrison, Peter M. C.2, Author
Meyer, Lars3, Author              
Pearce, Marcus T.2, 4, Author
Haynes, John-Dylan5, Author
Koelsch, Stefan1, 6, Author              
1Department Neuropsychology, MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Max Planck Society, ou_634551              
2School of Electronic Engineering and Computer Science, Queen Mary University of London, United Kingdom, ou_persistent22              
3Max Planck Research Group Language Cycles, MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Max Planck Society, ou_3025666              
4Department of Clinical Medicine, Center for Music in the Brain, Aarhus University, Denmark, ou_persistent22              
5Bernstein Center for Computational Neuroscience, Berlin, Germany, ou_persistent22              
6Department of Biological and Medical Psychology, University of Bergen, Norway, ou_persistent22              


Free keywords: aesthetics, amygdala, emotions, fMRI, information theory, nucleus accumbens, prediction, predictive coding, reward, syntax
 Abstract: Listening to music often evokes intense emotions [1, 2]. Recent research suggests that musical pleasure comes from positive reward prediction errors, which arise when what is heard proves to be better than expected [3]. Central to this view is the engagement of the nucleus accumbens—a brain region that processes reward expectations—to pleasurable music and surprising musical events [4, 5, 6, 7, 8]. However, expectancy violations along multiple musical dimensions (e.g., harmony and melody) have failed to implicate the nucleus accumbens [9, 10, 11], and it is unknown how music reward value is assigned [12]. Whether changes in musical expectancy elicit pleasure has thus remained elusive [11]. Here, we demonstrate that pleasure varies nonlinearly as a function of the listener’s uncertainty when anticipating a musical event, and the surprise it evokes when it deviates from expectations. Taking Western tonal harmony as a model of musical syntax, we used a machine-learning model [13] to mathematically quantify the uncertainty and surprise of 80,000 chords in US Billboard pop songs. Behaviorally, we found that chords elicited high pleasure ratings when they deviated substantially from what the listener had expected (low uncertainty, high surprise) or, conversely, when they conformed to expectations in an uninformative context (high uncertainty, low surprise). Neurally, we found using fMRI that activity in the amygdala, hippocampus, and auditory cortex reflected this interaction, while the nucleus accumbens only reflected uncertainty. These findings challenge current neurocognitive models of music-evoked pleasure and highlight the synergistic interplay between prospective and retrospective states of expectation in the musical experience.


Language(s): eng - English
 Dates: 2019-09-112019-07-062019-09-252019-11-072019-12-02
 Publication Status: Published in print
 Pages: -
 Publishing info: -
 Table of Contents: -
 Rev. Type: Peer
 Identifiers: DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2019.09.067
Other: Epub 2019
PMID: 31708393
 Degree: -



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Funding organization : Max Planck Society
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Grant ID : -
Funding program : Honorary Doctoral Scholarship
Funding organization : Croucher Foundation
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Grant ID : EP/L01632X/1
Funding program : -
Funding organization : Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)

Source 1

Title: Current Biology
  Other : Curr. Biol.
Source Genre: Journal
Publ. Info: London, UK : Cell Press
Pages: - Volume / Issue: 29 (23) Sequence Number: - Start / End Page: 4084 - 4092.e4 Identifier: ISSN: 0960-9822
CoNE: https://pure.mpg.de/cone/journals/resource/954925579107