Hearing in the mind's ear: A PET investigation of musical imagery and perception

Publication Date

Winter 1996


Journal of Cognitive Neurosciences





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Neuropsychological studies have suggested that imagery processes may be mediated by neuronal mechanisms similar to those used in perception. To test this hypothesis, and to explore the neural basis for song imagery, 12 normal subjects were scanned using the water bolus method to measure cerebral blood flow (CBF) during the performance of three tasks. In the control condition subjects saw pairs of words on each trial and judged which word was longer. In the perceptual condition subjects also viewed pairs of words, this time drawn from a familiar song; simultaneously they heard the corresponding song, and their task was to judge the change in pitch of the two cued words within the song. In the imagery condition, subjects performed precisely the same judgment as in the perceptual condition, but with no auditory input. Thus, to perform the imagery task correctly an internal auditory representation must be accessed. Paired-image subtraction of the resulting pattern of CBF, together with matched MRI for anatomical localization, revealed that both perceptual and imagery. tasks produced similar patterns of CBF changes, as compared to the control condition, in keeping with the hypothesis. More specifically, both perceiving and imagining songs are associated with bilateral neuronal activity in the secondary auditory cortices, suggesting that processes within these regions underlie the phenomenological impression of imagined sounds. Other CBF foci elicited in both tasks include areas in the left and right frontal lobes and in the left parietal lobe, as well as the supplementary motor area. This latter region implicates covert vocalization as one component of musical imagery. Direct comparison of imagery and perceptual tasks revealed CBF increases in the inferior frontal polar cortex and right thalamus. We speculate that this network of regions may be specifically associated with retrieval and/or generation of auditory information from memory.

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