Are There AEPs Related To Dissonance?

11 Feb

Auditory Evoked Potentials (AEPs) are measurable electrical signals that occur in the brain at the onset of an external auditory source.  It is believed that certain AEPs, those caused by music, might lend to the understanding of specific neural correlates that pertain to music cognition.  Thus abiding by this theory, intra-musical properties such as harmony, consonance, dissonance, tempo, and motives, should elicit unique AEPs.  Werner Paulus at the University of Wurzburg in Germany examined whether consonant or dissonant chords evoked distinct AEPs.

For this study, five subjects between the ages of 21 and 57 were selected.  All participants reported little musical training but had familiarity with one musical instrument.  The subjects listened to multiple tone-generated chords that covered both consonant and dissonant harmonies.  The five chords were used, held for the duration of 900 ms, and played a total of nine times.  They were instructed to listen “indifferently.”

The results did not find an AEP related to the dissonant stimuli.  However, Paulus argues the possibility of this AEP should not be ruled out. One of the subjects demonstrated AEP changes related to the dissonance chord which Paulus believes could be a result of actively examining the stimuli.  The experiment also only included one dissonant chord.  A change in the methodology of this study (perhaps the inclusion of additional dissonant materials) might yield other results.  In conclusion, Paulus believes that AEPs might be salient only during the active listening of music, not in passive, or with isolated musical components as with this study.  Further research is necessary to determine significant AEPs.

Paulus, W. (1992). Event-related potentials evoked by music lack a dissonance correlate. Psychomusicology, 11, 152-156.


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