Experience-based adaptation of emotional responses is an important faculty for cognitive and emotional functioning. Professional musicians represent an ideal model in which to elicit experience-driven changes in the emotional processing domain. The changes of the central representation of emotional arousal due to musical expertise are still largely unknown. The aim of the present study was to investigate the electroencephalogram (EEG) correlates of experience-driven changes in the domain of emotional arousal. Therefore, the differences in perceived (subjective arousal via ratings) and physiologically measured (EEG) arousal between amateur and professional musicians were examined.
A total of 15 professional and 19 amateur musicians listened to the first movement of Ludwig van Beethoven's 5th symphony (duration=∼7.4min), during which a continuous 76-channel EEG was recorded. In a second session, the participants evaluated their emotional arousal during listening. In a tonic analysis, we examined the average EEG data over the time course of the music piece. For a phasic analysis, a fast Fourier transform was performed and covariance maps of spectral power were computed in association with the subjective arousal ratings.
The subjective arousal ratings of the professional musicians were more consistent than those of the amateur musicians. In the tonic EEG analysis, a mid-frontal theta activity was observed in the professionals. In the phasic EEG, the professionals exhibited an increase of posterior alpha, central delta, and beta rhythm during high arousal.
Professionals exhibited different and/or more intense patterns of emotional activation when they listened to the music. The results of the present study underscore the impact of music experience on emotional reactions.