Music, reward and clinical applications

Abstract: Music is a highly complex, multidomain stimulus that engages a large-scale bilateral network of brain areas associated with auditory perception; language and syntactic and semantic processing, attention and working memory, semantic and episodic memory, rhythmic and motor functions, and emotions and reward. Notably, musical training can shape the structure and function of the brain thus driving clinical interest on the use of music-based interventions in neurological rehabilitation. In this talk, I will introduce our findings on people with specific musical anhedonia, i.e individuals who do not derive pleasure from music despite intact reward processing for other reinforcers. In particular, I will present structural and functional MRI results showing that i) there is a dissociation in the activity of the reward system for musical pleasure and monetary gains in this group of people, ii) the white matter microstructure of the paths connecting the perceptual and reward systems is associated with individual differences in music reward sensitivity. Finally, I will give an overview of a randomized controlled trial with traumatic brain injury patients using music therapy and its effects on executive functions, brain morphometry, and resting-state functional connectivity. Overall, these results add up to an increasing body of evidence for the capacity of music to engage widespread cognitive and emotional systems and to its efficacy in the rehabilitation of neurological disorders.

Short bio: Dr. Noèlia Martínez-Molina is a biologist and cognitive neuroscientist interested in understanding how the neural activity in emotion and reward processing is modulated by music and in the use of music for rehabilitating cognitive and emotional functioning in neurological disorders. She defended her PhD in Experimental Psychology from the University of Barcelona in 2017. This work integrated behavioural methods with structural and functional MRI to study the neural correlates of individuals with specific musical anhedonia, i.e. showing a selective reduction in musical pleasure despite normal perceptual abilities and preserved reward-related response in other domains. She is now a postdoctoral fellow with Dr. Teppo Särkämö in the Music, Ageing and Rehabilitation Team (MART) working on the analysis of longitudinal neuroimaging data from traumatic brain injury and stroke patients with aphasia.