An fMRI investigation of the cultural specificity of music memory


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Abstract

This study explored the role of culture in shaping music perception and memory. We tested the hypothesis that listeners demonstrate different patterns of activation associated with music processing—particularly right frontal cortex—when encoding and retrieving culturally familiar and unfamiliar stimuli, with the latter evoking broader activation consistent with more complex memory tasks. Subjects (n = 16) were right-handed adults born and raised in the USA (n = 8) or Turkey (n = 8) with minimal music training. Using fMRI procedures, we scanned subjects during two tasks: (i) listening to novel musical examples from their own culture and an unfamiliar culture and (ii) identifying which among a series of brief excerpts were taken from the longer examples. Both groups were more successful remembering music of their home culture. We found greater activation for culturally unfamiliar music listening in the left cerebellar region, right angular gyrus, posterior precuneus and right middle frontal area extending into the inferior frontal cortex. Subjects demonstrated greater activation in the cingulate gyrus and right lingual gyrus when engaged in recall of culturally unfamiliar music. This study provides evidence for the influence of culture on music perception and memory performance at both a behavioral and neurological level.

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