The relation of space and musical pitch in the brain

Sarah DolscheidUniversity of Cologne, Cologne, Germany
Roel M, WillemsDonders Institute for Brain, Cognition, and Behaviour, Radboud University, Nijmegen
Peter HagoortDonders Institute for Brain, Cognition, and Behaviour, Radboud University, Nijmegen
Daniel CasasantoDepartment of Psychology, University of Chicago, USA

Abstract

Numerous experiments show that space and musical pitch are closely linked in people's minds. However, the exact nature of space-pitch associations and their neuronal underpinnings are not well understood. In an fMRI experiment we investigated different types of spatial representations that may underlie musical pitch. Participants judged stimuli that varied in spatial height in both the visual and tactile modalities, as well as auditory stimuli that varied in pitch height. In order to distinguish between unimodal and multimodal spatial bases of musical pitch, we examined whether pitch activations were present in modality-specific (visual or tactile) versus multimodal (visual and tactile) regions active during spatial height processing. Judgments of musical pitch were found to activate unimodal visual areas, suggesting that space-pitch associations may involve modality-specific spatial representations, supporting a key assumption of embodied theories of metaphorical mental representation.

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