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Musical training shapes the perception of unexpected dissonance: an ERP study.

Musical training shapes the perception of unexpected dissonance: an ERP study.

Presenter Name:Carlota Pagès-Portabella

School/Affiliation:Univesitat Pompeu Fabra

Co-Authors:Juan M. Toro


In western music, harmonic expectations can be fulfilled or broken by unexpected chords. In the present study, we explored the factors interacting with the processing of dissonant violations of musical context. Previous research has described the neural responses of unexpected dissonance but it remains unclear to what extent they can be modulated. We explored whether the degree of expectation accumulated during a musical cadence influences the perceived dissonance. Also, whether listeners can familiarize to frequently-appearing dissonant endings with a short-term exposure. Moreover, we investigated whether these two factors interact with long-term musical training. First, we compared the event-related potentials of musicians and non-musicians listening to dissonant chords at intermediate or ending positions of chord cadences. Second, we analysed the ERPs of musicians and non-musicians to a high proportion (50%) of cadences ending in a dissonant chord. In both settings, clusters elicited an early negativity, a P3a and an N5. Each ERP differently varied with the amount of expectation and musical expertise. In summary, clusters represented a stronger violation and were more unexpected for musicians than for non-musicians. Also, regardless of musicianship, listeners were not able to familiarize to frequent dissonant endings. Our study suggests that dissonance is hard to assimilate as a closure of musical context (even if it occurs frequently) for all listeners, but musicianship influences the neural mechanisms that are recruited for its processing.

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