Mirror neuron activation of musicians and non-musicians in response to motion captured piano performances

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HighlightsMusicians/non-musicians viewed “stick-like” motion captured piano performances.Musicians activated more mirror neurons to pieces played in an “enjoyment” mode.Greater mirror neuron activity in response to “enjoyment” to “correct mode”.Mirror neuron activation is modulated by musical expertise.Activation in musicians may stem from imagining themselves playing the piece.Mirror neurons (MNs) activate when performing an action and when an observer witnesses the same action performed by another individual. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and presentation of motion captured piano performances were used to identify differences in MN activation for musicians/non-musicians when viewing piano pieces played in a “Correct” mode (i.e., emphasis on technical correctness) or an “Enjoyment” mode (i.e., simply told to “enjoy” playing the piece). Results showed greater MN activation in a variety of brain regions for musicians, with these differences more pronounced in the “Enjoyment” mode. Our findings suggest that activation of MNs is not only initiated by the imagined action of an observed movement, but such activation is modulated by the level of musical expertise and knowledge of associated motor movements that the observer brings to the viewing situation. Enhanced MN activation in musicians may stem from imagining themselves actually playing the observed piece.

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