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Amygdala detects spontaneity in human behavior
Date:5/3/2011

This release is available in German.

A pianist is playing an unknown melody freely without reading from a musical score. How does the listener's brain recognise if this melody is improvised or if it is memorized? Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig investigated jazz musicians to discover which brain areas are especially sensitive to features of improvised behaviour. Among these are the amygdala and a network of areas known to be involved in the mental simulation of behaviour. Furthermore, the ability to correctly recognise improvisations was not only related to the musical experience of a listener but also to his ability to take the perspective of someone else.

The ability to discriminate spontaneous from planned (rehearsed) behaviour is important when inferring others' intentions in everyday situations, for example, when judging whether someone's behaviour is calculated and intended to deceive. In order to examine such basic mechanisms of social abilities in controlled settings, Peter Keller, head of the research group "Music Cognition and Action" at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Leipzig and his research associate Annerose Engel investigate musical constellations ranging from solos and duos to large musical ensembles. In a recent study, they investigated the brain activity of jazz musicians while these musicians listened to short excerpts of improvised melodies or rehearsed versions of the same melodies. The listeners judged whether each heard melody was improvised.

"Musical improvisations are more variable in their loudness and timing, most likely due to irregularities in force control associated with fluctuations in certainty about upcoming actionsi.e., when spontaneously deciding what to playduring improvised musical performance", explains Peter Kelle
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Contact: Annerose Engel
engela@cbs.mpg.de
49-341-994-02614
Max-Planck-Gesellschaft
Source:Eurekalert  

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