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New paper in eLife: Functional connectivity in human auditory networks and the origins of variation in the transmission of musical systems

New study identifies biological and neural variability across individuals as a putative ‘source’ of musical diversity

29.10.2019 | Hella Kastbjerg

One striking aspect of human culture is the rich variability in musical forms and features observed across the world's populations. The origins of music diversity has fascinated researchers for more than a century.

A new study from Center of Music in the Brain at Aarhus University conducted by Assistant Professor Massimo Lumaca in collaboration with Center Leader Peter Vuust, Boris Kleber, Elvira Brattico and Giosue Baggio, has identified biological and neural variability across individuals as a putative ‘source’ of this diversity.

In this research, 52 human volunteers underwent MRI scanning and a behavioural test of so-called intergenerational transmission similar to the ‘Game-of-Telephone’, where the participants represent one ‘generation’ through which artificial musical stimuli are learned and passed on.

The results have just been published in the high impact scientific journal eLife.

The team has found that tiny differences across individuals in auditory brain function—differences in how strongly cortical regions of an auditory network are ‘functionally connected’ when measured at rest—are linked to how they learn and transmit musical sounds. And the team hypothesize that this variation in behaviour get amplified as music passes from one generation to another, to produce some of the observed diversity in music and musical dialects.

“The human ability to acquire and recall musical knowledge is constrained by the functional and structural organization of human auditory networks. These neural characteristics are not homogeneously distributed in human populations. Therefore, some individuals are less efficient in learning musical sounds and are more predisposed to reorganize it to novel musical variants. In some way, this study can tell us something about human creativity”—says Massimo Lumaca.

“During cultural transmission, evolutionary forces larger than the single individual, such as aesthetic selection and random drifts, may change the relative proportion of these variants, to finally produce large-scale population differences in music, such as musical cultures and dialects.”

The author continues: “Historically, research on the sources of music diversity has mainly focused on cultural phenomena such as the fusion of musical variants from different musical cultures—for instance, the importation of Asian musical characters into Western music by composers such as Debussy. Our findings suggest that also individual (neuro)biology matters.”

The open access paper can be found here:


Forskning, Forskning, Alle grupper, Musicinthebrain, Musicinthebrain, Navnenyt