fMRI investigation of cross-cultural music comprehension

Steven J. Morrison*, Steven M. Demorest, Elizabeth H. Aylward, Steven C. Cramer, Kenneth R. Maravilla

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

70 Scopus citations


The popular view of music as a "universal" language ignores the privileged position of the cultural insider in comprehending musical information unique to their own tradition. The purpose of this study was to test the hypothesis that listeners would demonstrate different neural activity in response to culturally familiar and unfamiliar music and that those differences may be affected by the extent of subjects' formal musical training. Just as familiar languages have been shown to use distinct brain processes, we hypothesized that an analogous difference might be found in music and that it may depend in part on subjects' formal musical knowledge. Using fMRI we compared the activation patterns of professional musicians and untrained controls reared in the United States as they listened to music from their culture (Western) and from an unfamiliar culture (Chinese). No overall differences in activation were observed for either subject group in response to the two musical styles, although there were differences in recall performance based on style and there were activation differences based on training. Trained listeners demonstrated additional activation in the right STG for both musics and in the right and left midfrontal regions for Western music and Chinese music, respectively. Our findings indicate that listening to culturally different musics may activate similar neural resources but with dissimilar results in recall performance.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)378-384
Number of pages7
Issue number1
StatePublished - Sep 1 2003

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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