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Cortical music selectivity does not require musical training

By Dana Boebinger, Sam V. Norman-Haignere, Josh McDermott, Nancy Kanwisher

Posted 11 Jan 2020
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2020.01.10.902189

Human auditory cortex contains neural populations that respond strongly to a wide variety of music sounds, but much less strongly to sounds with similar acoustic properties or to other real-world sounds. However, it is unknown whether this selectivity for music is driven by explicit training. To answer this question, we measured fMRI responses to 192 natural sounds in 10 people with extensive musical training and 10 with almost none. Using voxel decomposition (Norman-Haignere et al., 2015) to explain voxel responses across all 20 participants in terms of a small number of components, we replicated the existence of a music-selective response component similar in tuning and anatomical distribution to our earlier report. Critically, we also estimated components separately for musicians and non-musicians and found that a music-selective component was clearly present even in individuals with almost no musical training, which was very similar to the music component found in musicians. We also found that musical genres that were less familiar to our participants (e.g., Mongolian throat singing) produced strong responses within the music component, as did drum clips with rhythm but little melody. These data replicate the finding of music selectivity, broaden its scope to include unfamiliar musical genres and rhythms, and show that it is robustly present in people with almost no musical training. Our findings demonstrate that musical training is not necessary for music selectivity to emerge in non-primary auditory cortex, raising the possibility that music-selective brain responses could be a universal property of human auditory cortex.

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