Congruence of happy and sad emotion in music and faces modifies cortical audiovisual activation.Neuroimage. 2011 Feb 14; 54(4):2973-82.N
The powerful emotion inducing properties of music are well-known, yet music may convey differing emotional responses depending on environmental factors. We hypothesized that neural mechanisms involved in listening to music may differ when presented together with visual stimuli that conveyed the same emotion as the music when compared to visual stimuli with incongruent emotional content.
We designed this study to determine the effect of auditory (happy and sad instrumental music) and visual stimuli (happy and sad faces) congruent or incongruent for emotional content on audiovisual processing using fMRI blood oxygenation level-dependent (BOLD) signal contrast. The experiment was conducted in the context of a conventional block-design experiment. A block consisted of three emotional ON periods, music alone (happy or sad music), face alone (happy or sad faces), and music combined with faces where the music excerpt was played while presenting either congruent emotional faces or incongruent emotional faces.
We found activity in the superior temporal gyrus (STG) and fusiform gyrus (FG) to be differentially modulated by music and faces depending on the congruence of emotional content. There was a greater BOLD response in STG when the emotion signaled by the music and faces was congruent. Furthermore, the magnitude of these changes differed for happy congruence and sad congruence, i.e., the activation of STG when happy music was presented with happy faces was greater than the activation seen when sad music was presented with sad faces. In contrast, incongruent stimuli diminished the BOLD response in STG and elicited greater signal change in bilateral FG. Behavioral testing supplemented these findings by showing that subject ratings of emotion in faces were influenced by emotion in music. When presented with happy music, happy faces were rated as more happy (p=0.051) and sad faces were rated as less sad (p=0.030). When presented with sad music, happy faces were rated as less happy (p=0.008) and sad faces were rated as sadder (p=0.002).
Happy-sad congruence across modalities may enhance activity in auditory regions while incongruence appears to impact the perception of visual affect, leading to increased activation in face processing regions such as the FG. We suggest that greater understanding of the neural bases of happy-sad congruence across modalities can shed light on basic mechanisms of affective perception and experience and may lead to novel insights in the study of emotion regulation and therapeutic use of music.