Favorite Music Triggers Specific Brain Activity

August 25, 2014

Listening to a favorite song seems to trigger a common pattern of brain activity, regardless of genre, a small study in the journal Scientific Reports suggests. The findings may explain why different people describe similar emotional feelings and memory responses when listening to their favorite piece of music, whether it is something by Beethoven or Eminem.

Music preferences are highly individualized and different music types can vary substantially in their melodic and harmonic features, and rhythmic complexity. However, when listening to preferred music, people often report the same response — experiencing personal thoughts and memories. 

To understand why people have comparable experiences, Jonathan Burdette, M.D., professor of radiology at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, and colleagues evaluated differences in functional brain networks (using functional magnetic resonance imaging data) in 21 people when listening to different types of music, including rock, rap and classical. They identify consistent patterns of brain connectivity associated with song preference. When listening to their self-reported favorite song, participants displayed increased connectivity in a brain circuit associated with internally focused thoughts and showed altered connectivity between auditory brain regions and areas responsible for memory and social emotion consolidation. 

The findings provide a glimpse into the neural activity that underlies the emotional and cognitive states that are associated with listening to preferred and favorite music.

Media Relations

Marguerite Beck: marbeck@wakehealth.edu, 336-716-2415