The emotional power of music: How music enhances the feeling of affective pictures

T. Baumgartner, K. Lutz, C. Schmidt, L. Jancke

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Music is an intriguing stimulus widely used in movies to increase the emotional experience. However, no brain imaging study has to date examined this enhancement effect using emotional pictures (the modality mostly used in emotion research) and musical excerpts. Therefore, we designed this functional magnetic resonance imaging study to explore how musical stimuli enhance the feeling of affective pictures. In a classical block design carefully controlling for habituation and order effects, we presented fearful and sad pictures (mostly taken from the IAPS) either alone or combined with congruent emotional musical excerpts (classical pieces). Subjective ratings clearly indicated that the emotional experience was markedly increased in the combined relative to the picture condition. Furthermore, using a second-level analysis and regions of interest approach, we observed a clear functional and structural dissociation between the combined and the picture condition. Besides increased activation in brain areas known to be involved in auditory as well as in neutral and emotional visual-auditory integration processes, the combined condition showed increased activation in many structures known to be involved in emotion processing (including for example amygdala, hippocampus, parahippocampus, insula, striatum, medial ventral frontal cortex, cerebellum, fusiform gyrus). In contrast, the picture condition only showed an activation increase in the cognitive part of the prefrontal cortex, mainly in the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. Based on these findings, we suggest that emotional pictures evoke a more cognitive mode of emotion perception, whereas congruent presentations of emotional visual and musical stimuli rather automatically evoke strong emotional feelings and experiences. © 2005 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)151-164
JournalBrain Research
Publication statusPublished - 2006

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