That note sounds wrong! Age-related effects in processing of musical expectation.

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Brain and cognition, ISSN: 1090-2147, Vol: 113, Page: 1-9

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Halpern, Andrea R; Zioga, Ioanna; Shankleman, Martin; Lindsen, Job; Pearce, Marcus T; Bhattacharya, Joydeep
Elsevier BV
Psychology; Arts and Humanities; Neuroscience
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article description
Part of musical understanding and enjoyment stems from the ability to accurately predict what note (or one of a small set of notes) is likely to follow after hearing the first part of a melody. Selective violation of expectations can add to aesthetic response but radical or frequent violations are likely to be disliked or not comprehended. In this study we investigated whether a lifetime of exposure to music among untrained older adults would enhance their reaction to unexpected endings of unfamiliar melodies. Older and younger adults listened to melodies that had expected or unexpected ending notes, according to Western music theory. Ratings of goodness-of-fit were similar in the groups, as was ERP response to the note onset (N1). However, in later time windows (P200 and Late Positive Component), the amplitude of a response to unexpected and expected endings was both larger in older adults, corresponding to greater sensitivity, and more widespread in locus, consistent with a dedifferentiation pattern. Lateralization patterns also differed. We conclude that older adults refine their understanding of this important aspect of music throughout life, with the ability supported by changing patterns of neural activity.