Amygdala Detects Spontaneity in Human Behavior

Study of Jazz Musicians Reveals How Brain Processes Improvisations

A pianist is playing an unknown melody freely without reading from a musical score. How does the listener’s brain recognise if this melody is improvised or if it is memorized?

Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig investigated jazz musicians to discover which brain areas are especially sensitive to features of improvised behaviour. Among these are the amygdala and a network of areas known to be involved in the mental simulation of behaviour. Furthermore, the ability to correctly recognise improvisations was not only related to the musical experience of a listener but also to his ability to take the perspective of someone else.

This image shows amygdala activation during listening to improvised melodies (compared to listening to imitated melodies). (Credit: Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences)

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