0
Get Alert
Please Wait... Processing your request... Please Wait.
You must sign in to sign-up for alerts.

Please confirm that your email address is correct, so you can successfully receive this alert.

1
CLASSIC   |    
Music and the Debate on Cerebral Dominance: The Classic Work of Bever and Chiarello
Thomas C. Neylan, M.D., Section Editor
The Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences 2009;21:92-93.

"Dominance of the left hemisphere for such analytic functions would explain dominance of the right ear for melody recognition in experienced listeners: as their capacity for musical analysis increases, the left hemisphere becomes increasingly involved in the processing of music. This raises the possibility that being musically sophisticated has real neurologic concomitants, permitting the utilization of a different strategy of musical apprehension that calls on left hemisphere functions."1

The study of music and the brain has received recent attention in part through the publication of Daniel Levitin’s This Is Your Brain on Music2 and Oliver Sacks, Musicophilia.3 The next article in the Classic Series honors the seminal work of Thomas G. Bever and Robert J. Chiarello conducted at Columbia University. The experiment addressed an apparent paradox. A prevailing theory, first proposed by Hughlings Jackson,4 was that cognitive activity in the left hemisphere was specialized for propositional and serial analytic processes whereas the right hemisphere was involved in holistic associational processing. This suggested that the apparent dominance of the left hemisphere for language and mathematics and the apparent dominance for the right hemisphere for handling art and music reflected a difference in computational processing. The view that music would be preferentially managed by the right hemisphere was bolstered by multiple studies demonstrating left ear superiority for the recognition of musical melodies. These studies were also based on the premise that monaural presentation of stimuli, though processed by both hemispheres, is associated with dominance of the contralateral hemisphere.5 Bever and Chiarello were predominantly interested in using music as a window for testing assumptions about functional cerebral asymmetry. The apparent preference for left ear listening for music, and by inference, right hemisphere processing, was difficult to explain because music is organized in serial patterns of notes and phrases which presumably would favor a preference for left hemisphere processing.

Bever and Chiarello’s innovation was to compare experienced musicians to nonmusicians on ear preference and their ability to accurately identify a two-note excerpt versus the full melody. The latter task was chosen to test their ability to analyze music by its subcomponents. Nonmusicians showed a preference for the left ear to identify whole melodies consistent with prior studies suggesting right hemisphere preference for processing musical information. Further, the nonmusicians were not able to accurately identify two-note excerpts. In contrast experienced musicians showed a right ear preference and were able to identify subcomponents. The results suggested that musical training recruited left hemisphere processing. These results show that music can be appreciated holistically as well as analyzed by its structure of subcomponents. It also shows that musical training can result in a remodeling of stimulus processing. This fits both the idea of neurologic plasticity and that musical training can actually change the physical structure of the brain.

In a phone interview, Dr. Bever stated that the experiment grew out of an honors thesis by Robert Chiarello, who was a senior at Columbia University. The citation record shows a bimodal pattern with a large number of citations in the years following the initial publication and a resurgence of citations in recent years. Dr. Bever speculated that this may relate to a rekindling of the debate on the fundamental basis of cerebral asymmetry; that is, are the hemispheres differentiated to manage different stimulus response modalities, or differentiated by aspects of computational efficiency? The results from many functional imaging studies have contributed to a reemergence of the modular view of cognitive processes, thus the debates lives on. The Bever and Chiarello article is an excellent example of how an elegant and efficient experiment can have an enduring impact on a major question in the brain sciences. And yes, both authors were enthusiastically interested in music in addition to the broad issues related to cerebral asymmetry.

.
Bever TG, Chiarello RJ: Cerebral dominance in musicians and nonmusicians. Science 1974; 185:537—539
 
.
Levitin DJ: This Is Your Brain On Music: The Science of a Human Obsession. New York, Dutton/Penguin Books, 2006
 
.
Sacks O: Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain. New York, Knopf, Random House NY, 2007,
 
.
Jackson JH: Selected Writings of John Hughling Jackson, Volume 2. London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1932
 
.
Della Penna S, Brancucci A, Babiloni C, et al: Lateralization of dichotic speech stimuli is based on specific auditory pathway interactions: neuromagnetic evidence. Cereb Cortex 2007; 17:2303—2311
 
+

References

.
Bever TG, Chiarello RJ: Cerebral dominance in musicians and nonmusicians. Science 1974; 185:537—539
 
.
Levitin DJ: This Is Your Brain On Music: The Science of a Human Obsession. New York, Dutton/Penguin Books, 2006
 
.
Sacks O: Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain. New York, Knopf, Random House NY, 2007,
 
.
Jackson JH: Selected Writings of John Hughling Jackson, Volume 2. London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1932
 
.
Della Penna S, Brancucci A, Babiloni C, et al: Lateralization of dichotic speech stimuli is based on specific auditory pathway interactions: neuromagnetic evidence. Cereb Cortex 2007; 17:2303—2311
 
+
+

CME Activity

There is currently no quiz available for this resource. Please click here to go to the CME page to find another.
Submit a Comments
Please read the other comments before you post yours. Contributors must reveal any conflict of interest.
Comments are moderated and will appear on the site at the discertion of APA editorial staff.

* = Required Field
(if multiple authors, separate names by comma)
Example: John Doe



Web of Science® Times Cited: 1

Related Content
Articles
Books
DSM-5™ Handbook of Differential Diagnosis > Chapter 2.  >
DSM-5™ Clinical Cases > Chapter 2.  >
DSM-5™ Clinical Cases > Chapter 4.  >
Topic Collections
Psychiatric News
PubMed Articles