Brains “in concert”: Frontal oscillatory alpha rhythms and empathy in professional musicians

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Playing music in ensemble represents a unique human condition/performance where musicians should rely on empathic relationships. Recent theories attribute to frontal Brodmann areas (BAs) 44/45 and 10/11 a neural basis for “emotional” and “cognitive” empathy. We hypothesized that activity of these structures reflects empathy trait in professional musicians playing in ensemble. Simultaneous electroencephalographic (EEG) alpha rhythms (8–12 Hz) were recorded in three saxophone quartets during music performance in ensemble (EXECUTION), video observation of their own performance (OBSERVATION), a control task (CONTROL), and resting state (RESTING). EEG source estimation was performed. Results showed that the higher the empathy quotient test score, the higher the alpha desynchronization in right BA 44/45 during the OBSERVATION referenced to RESTING condition. Empathy trait score and alpha desynchronization were not correlated in other control areas or in EXECUTION/CONTROL conditions. These results suggest that alpha rhythms in BA 44/45 reflect “emotional” empathy in musicians observing own performance.


□ Playing music in ensemble represents human performance relying on empathic relation. □ BA 44/45 and 10/11 activity could reflect empathy trait of musicians in ensemble. □ Empathy trait score and alpha desynchronization were correlated in right BA 44/45. □ Observing own performance, BA 44/45 alpha rhythm could reflect emotional empathy.

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