Abstract

We investigated how familiarity alters music and language processing in the brain. We used fMRI to measure brain responses before and after participants were familiarized with novel music and language stimuli. To manipulate the presence of language and music in the stimuli, there were four conditions: (1) whole music (music and words together), (2) instrumental music (no words), (3) a capella music (sung words, no instruments), and (4) spoken words. To manipulate participants' familiarity with the stimuli, we used novel stimuli and a familiarization paradigm designed to mimic “natural” exposure, while controlling for autobiographical memory confounds. Participants completed two fMRI scans that were separated by a stimulus training period. Behaviorally, participants learned the stimuli over the training period. However, there were no significant neural differences between the familiar and unfamiliar stimuli in either univariate or multivariate analyses. There were differences in neural activity in frontal and temporal regions based on the presence of language in the stimuli, and these differences replicated across the two scanning sessions. These results indicate that the way we engage with music is important for creating a memory of that music, and these aspects, over and above familiarity on its own, may be responsible for the robust nature of musical memory in the presence of neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer's disease.

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