Hidden sources of joy, fear, and sadness: Explicit versus implicit neural processing of musical emotions

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


Research units

  • University of Helsinki
  • McGill University
  • University of Jyväskylä
  • Aarhus University
  • Royal Acad Mus Aarhus Aalborg


Music is often used to regulate emotions and mood. Typically, music conveys and induces emotions even when one does not attend to them. Studies on the neural substrates of musical emotions have, however, only examined brain activity when subjects have focused on the emotional content of the music. Here we address with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) the neural processing of happy, sad, and fearful music with a paradigm in which 56 subjects were instructed to either classify the emotions (explicit condition) or pay attention to the number of instruments playing (implicit condition) in 4-s music clips. In the implicit vs. explicit condition, stimuli activated bilaterally the inferior parietal lobule, premotor cortex, caudate, and ventromedial frontal areas. The cortical dorsomedial prefrontal and occipital areas activated during explicit processing were those previously shown to be associated with the cognitive processing of music and emotion recognition and regulation. Moreover, happiness in music was associated with activity in the bilateral auditory cortex, left parahippocampal gyrus, and supplementary motor area, whereas the negative emotions of sadness and fear corresponded with activation of the left anterior cingulate and middle frontal gyrus and down-regulation of the orbitofrontal cortex. Our study demonstrates for the first time in healthy subjects the neural underpinnings of the implicit processing of brief musical emotions, particularly in frontoparietal, dorsolateral prefrontal, and striatal areas of the brain.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)393-402
Number of pages10
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2016
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed

    Research areas

  • Caudate, Emotion, Explicit processing, Implicit processing, Music

ID: 6748484