Neuroscience and Neuromodeling Seminar

Musical experience and the ability to read others’ emotions

Sala 8.2.15, Ciências ULisboa

Por César Lima (Iscte - Instituto Universitário de Lisboa).

Over the past two decades, there has been widespread interest in the idea that music training enhances nonmusical abilities. Debates on transfer of learning remain contentious, however, and most work to date has focused on music training effects on linguistic processing and on domain-general cognitive abilities such as IQ. Much less is known about potential transfer from music to socioemotional skills, even though social and emotional processes are central to many musical activities. In this talk, I will present a series of studies examining the role of music training and musical abilities on emotion recognition in voices and faces. The data show that musically trained adults perform better than untrained ones at recognizing emotions in emotional speech prosody (‘tone of voice’) and in purely nonverbal vocalizations, such as laughter and crying. This advantage is observed when vocal expressions are intact and when sensory/acoustic information is limited (gating paradigm), but it does not extend to the visual modality, for the recognition of facial expressions. Importantly, converging correlational and longitudinal data raise doubts about the causal role of music training in explaining the musicians’ advantage in vocal emotional processing: (1) adults with ‘naturally’ good musical abilities show enhanced performance at recognizing vocal emotions regardless of their music training, indicating that training itself is not necessary to improve vocal emotional processing; and (2) in a longitudinal study with children, we found that music training improved auditory-perceptual and motor abilities, but not vocal and facial emotional processing. Altogether, these findings indicate that music training can be associated with enhanced emotion recognition in the auditory modality, but there is currently no evidence that such enhancements reflect experience-dependent brain plasticity. Instead, we document an important role for factors other than music training (e.g., predispositions) that should be considered when discussing associations between musical and nonmusical domains.


César Lima é Professor Auxiliar de Psicologia no Iscte - Instituto Universitário de Lisboa desde 2018. A sua investigação centra-se na psicologia e neurobiologia da comunicação vocal, emoções e música. Combina métodos da psicologia experimental e da neurociência cognitiva para abordar estes tópicos, em indivíduos saudáveis de todas as idades, em populações especializadas (e.g., músicos) e em populações clínicas (e.g., com alterações neurológicas ou psiquiátricas).

Publicou mais de 45 artigos em revistas com revisão de pares incluindo a Emotion Review, Cerebral Cortex, Brain, Current Biology, Trends in Neurosciences e Nature Reviews Neuroscience. César Lima faz parte do corpo editorial das revistas Scientific Reports (categoria Neurociência) e Royal Society Open Science (categoria Psychology and Cognitive Neuroscience). Tem sido convidado para rever artigos para revistas como a Psychological Bulletin, American Psychologist, NeuroImage, ou Nature Human Behavior, e propostas de projetos de investigação para a Leverhulme Trust, Royal Society, Czech Science Foundation e Swiss National Science Foundation.

Antes de integrar o Iscte, César Lima doutorou-se em Psicologia na Universidade do Porto (2008-2011), foi investigador pós-doutorado no Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience - University College London (2012-2016) e regressou à Universidade do Porto como Investigador Auxiliar ao abrigo do programa Investigador FCT (2016-2017). O seu trabalho como investigador principal tem sido financiado pela British Academy e pela Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia (FCT).

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