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Mirror Neurons, Empathy, and the Other  

Marco Iacoboni

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of other people. It extends also to the ability to understand and share the feelings of animals and fictional characters. Empathy is essential to properly function in social interactions. It is also typically higher for people who belong to one’s own social group and lower for people who belong to a different social group. Lack of empathy is associated with severe mental health conditions including psychopathy, narcissism, and antisocial personality disorder. Empathy is a complex, flexible, adaptive, and nuanced function for navigating social settings that involves the interplay of multiple neural systems. A crucial neural system for empathy is the mirror neuron system, formed by cells with a variety of properties and the shared feature of being activated during the actions of the self and the perception of actions of other people. The mirroring of the actions of other people in one’s brain allows an understanding from within of the other’s intentions, motivation, and feelings.


Music Perception  

Marcus T. Pearce

Music perception covers all aspects of psychological and neural processing invoked while listening to music. In order to make sense of a musical stimulus, the perceptual system must infer an internal representation of the structure present in a piece of music, including the attributes of individual events (including pitch, timbre, loudness, and timing), groups of events (such as chords, voices, and phrases), and structural relationships between such groups, so that larger-scale aspects of musical form and thematic structure can be perceived. Such representations are stored in memory at timescales ranging from seconds for echoic memory to decades in the case of long-term memory for music, which consists of schematic knowledge of musical styles, veridical memory for particular familiar pieces of music, and episodic memory for music heard at a particular place and time. Stored representations of music allow the generation of top-down expectations for the attributes of forthcoming events while listening to music, which play a role in the perception of music as it unfolds dynamically in time and also the emotional and aesthetic experience of music. Music is a communicative medium conveying affective meaning from the composer and performer to the listener, via several psychological mechanisms and using a range of cues in the music, some of which are universal, others culture-specific. Individuals show behavioral and physiological effects of listening to music from birth onward and learn the syntactic structure of the musical styles to which they are exposed within their culture, shaping their music perception. Some individuals undertake explicit musical training, which can additionally shape their perception of music, sometimes in fundamental ways. Listening to music can impair performance on concurrent tasks involving working memory due to competing access for resources but can improve performance when listening takes place prior to the task due to its positive effect on affective state. Music is a universal human cultural phenomenon whose complexity requires the activation of a diverse range of perceptual and cognitive mechanisms, making it an interesting target for psychological and neuroscientific investigation.