Brain Regions Involved in the Emotional Response to Music: An Analysis

There is no single brain ‘module’ that controls the emotions felt or the appreciation experienced while listening to music that resonates with us on a deep level. Like many functions of the brain, it is dispersed through a huge network of regions and likely emerges from the interplay between them. It is a global experience. That said, there are primary regions that seem to be more important than others in experiencing the emotions tied to music.

Much modern work on the neurology of music has put an emphasis on the roles of the left and right hemispheres of the cerebral cortex in the processing of music, as opposed to the original emphasis on a single hemisphere. While the right hemisphere seems to be involved with the affective appreciation and expression of music, the left is more involved with the analytical components of music, and thus is less involved in emotional responding. This, however, is not to be confused with the popular, very generalized belief that the right hemisphere is involved more in creative activity while the left focuses more on analytical information.

The generalized incentive seeking system, centered on mesolimbic and mesocortical dopamine (DA) circuits is important in time-stamping events, which is likely involved with the anticipation and eagerness that individuals often feel as they expect various aspects of music before they happen due to memory. Though it hasn’t been studied directly, music also likely interacts with noepinephrine (NE) and serotonin systems that regulate emotional responses.