Walter G. Wasser

Understanding Live Music’s Emotional Impact

Summary: Live music triggers stronger emotional responses than recordings, likely due to heightened activity in brain emotion-processing regions.

The study conducted by Sascha Frühholz and his team at the University of Zurich aimed to understand why live music evokes stronger emotional responses compared to recorded music. They composed 12 pieces of music, half designed to elicit negative emotions like sadness and anger, and the other half to evoke positive emotions. Participants listened to these pieces twice, once performed live by a pianist and once as a recording, while their brain activity was monitored using an MRI scanner.

The results showed that live performances consistently increased activity in the left amygdala, a brain region associated with processing emotions, compared to recorded music. This heightened brain activity correlated with the participants’ subjective ratings of emotional intensity for each piece. The researchers suggest that live music intensifies emotional responses due to its dynamic and adaptive nature, where performers adjust based on audience feedback. They also propose that experiencing live music in a social setting, such as a concert, enhances the emotional experience further.

The study referenced is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences with the following journal reference:

Trost, W., Trevor, C., Fernandez, N., & Frühholz, S. (2024). Live music stimulates the affective brain and emotionally entrains listeners in real time. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 121(10), e2316306121.

About the Author
The author is a specialist in nephrology and internal medicine and lives with his wife and family in Jerusalem.
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