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Live music strikes a deeper emotional chord than streamed music

When live music plays, the brain listens with heightened emotion

  • 15 March 2024

Researchers from the University of Zurich, led by cognitive and affective neuroscience professor Sascha Frühholz, have unveiled compelling findings that live music performances evoke more intense emotional responses in the brain compared to recorded music. The study delved into how live and recorded music differently impact emotional processing within the brain, particularly focusing on the amygdala, known as the brain's emotional epicentre.

In a meticulously designed experiment involving 27 participants, a pianist varied their live performance to amplify emotional reactions, while real-time brain activity was monitored using magnetic resonance imaging. The pianist then adjusted the performance in response to the emotional cues detected in the listeners' amygdala, creating a dynamic and interactive musical experience. Contrastingly, when subjects listened to recorded versions of the same piece, the emotional response in the amygdala was markedly lower and less consistent.

The research highlighted a more vibrant exchange of information across the brain during live music sessions, suggesting a robust engagement of both affective and cognitive faculties. This heightened state of emotional and cognitive processing underscores the unique impact of live performances on the human brain.

Further analysis revealed a significant alignment between the audience's emotional experiences and their brain's auditory systems during live performances, establishing a direct link between the live music and the listeners' emotional and neural responses. This synchronicity was not observed with recorded music, emphasising the intrinsic connection between live performances and audience engagement.

Frühholz posits that the profound appeal of live music is rooted in our evolutionary history, where live performances constituted the original form of musical expression. Despite the advent of advanced recording technologies and streaming services, the immersive and communal experience of live concerts remains unmatched, reflecting a deep-seated human desire for shared emotional journeys through music.

The study reaffirms the unique power of live music to move us emotionally and sheds light on the underlying neural mechanisms, suggesting that the live music experience is an irreplaceable facet of human culture and emotional expression.

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