Musical training shapes neural responses to melodic and prosodic expectation

Zioga, Ioanna; Di Bernardi Luft, Caroline and Bhattacharya, Joydeep. 2016. Musical training shapes neural responses to melodic and prosodic expectation. Brain Research, 1650, pp. 267-282. ISSN 0006-8993 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

Current research on music processing and syntax or semantics in language suggests that music and language share partially overlapping neural resources. Pitch also constitutes a common denominator, forming melody in music and prosody in language. Further, pitch perception is modulated by musical training. The present study investigated how music and language interact on pitch dimension and whether musical training plays a role in this interaction. For this purpose, we used melodies ending on an expected or unexpected note (melodic expectancy being estimated by a computational model) paired with prosodic utterances which were either expected (statements with falling pitch) or relatively unexpected (questions with rising pitch). Participants' (22 musicians, 20 nonmusicians) ERPs and behavioural responses in a statement/question discrimination task were recorded. Participants were faster for simultaneous expectancy violations in the melodic and linguistic stimuli. Further, musicians performed better than nonmusicians, which may be related to their increased pitch tracking ability. At the neural level, prosodic violations elicited a front-central positive ERP around 150 ms after the onset of the last word/note, while musicians presented reduced P600 in response to strong incongruities (questions on low-probability notes). Critically, musicians' P800 amplitudes were proportional to their level of musical training, suggesting that expertise might shape the pitch processing of language. The beneficial aspect of expertise could be attributed to its strengthening effect of general executive functions. These findings offer novel contributions to our understanding of shared higher-order mechanisms between music and language processing on pitch dimension, and further demonstrate a potential modulation by musical expertise.

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The authors are supported by the CREAM project that has been funded by the European Commission under Grant Agreement no 612022. This publication reflects the views only of the authors, and the European Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.


EEG; Expectation; Musical training; Language; Prosody

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1 November 2016Published
10 September 2016Published Online
9 September 2016Accepted

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Date Deposited:

21 Nov 2016 12:06

Last Modified:

29 Apr 2020 16:21

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Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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