Research Topic

Music and the Functions of the Brain: Arousal, Emotions, and Pleasure

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Music is a vibrational event that impinges upon the body and the brain. As such, it can induce bodily and psychological reactions that rely on innate dispositions and acquired mechanisms for coping with the sounds. This coping behaviour is partly autonomous and partly deliberate, but multiple interrelations ...

Music is a vibrational event that impinges upon the body and the brain. As such, it can induce bodily and psychological reactions that rely on innate dispositions and acquired mechanisms for coping with the sounds. This coping behaviour is partly autonomous and partly deliberate, but multiple interrelations between both levels of processing can be shown. There is, however, one big dividing line, which is related to the distinction between the ‘lower’ and the ‘higher’ functions of the brain.

The aim of this Research Topic is to bring together contributions from evolutionary and comparative musicology, ethology, and neurosciences with a view to provide a compilation of converging viewpoints to cover the possible range of answers to the question of what pleasurable effects music can have on human beings in real-time listening situations. Much research has been done already in the domain of musical arousal and emotions, but several questions are still matters of debate.

In order to discuss these questions, this Research Topic focuses on five major domains which revolve mainly around the lower functions of the brain: (i) the dispositional machinery to react to sounds and music with contributions from human and animal studies and with special emphasis on the evolutionary and comparative approach, (ii) the role of instinctive behaviour in relation to sound and music with special emphasis on the ethological approach, (iii) collecting the most recent finding about subcortical processing of sound and music with contributions from neuroscience, and (iv) the relationship between the lower and the higher level functioning of the brain with a special focus on the modulatory role of cortical functions on lower level reactions as arousal, emotion, and reward, and (v) music and pleasure.

Scientists working on music from separate but pertinent disciplines such as neuroscience, musicology, comparative musicology, ethology, biology, psychology, evolutionary psychology and psychoacoustics are encouraged to submit original empirical research, fresh hypothesis and theory articles, and perspective and opinion pieces reflecting on these topics. The aim is an integration of theory, empirical data, and hypotheses in order to better understand and drive new research on the topic of the inductive power of music. Articles of interest include, but are not limited to, those discussing research themes such as arousal, emotion and affect, musical emotions as core emotions, biological groundings of aesthetic experiences in general and as related to music, music-related pleasure and reward centres in the brain, physiological reactions to music, automatically triggered affective reactions to sound and music, the relation between emotion and cognition, evolutionary sources of musical sensitivity, affective neuroscience, neuro-affective foundations of musical appreciation, the relation between cognition and affect in general and as related to music, the mechanisms behind emotional and motor induction in music, brain stem reflexes to sound and music, activity changes in core emotion networks as triggered by dealing with music, and potential clinical and medical-therapeutic applications and implications of this knowledge.


Keywords: music, arousal, emotions, pleasure, subcortical processing, lower functions of the brain


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

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