Brain correlates of musical and facial emotion recognition

evidence from the dementias

S. Hsieh, M. Hornberger, O. Piguet, J. R. Hodges*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

69 Citations (Scopus)


The recognition of facial expressions of emotion is impaired in semantic dementia (SD) and is associated with right-sided brain atrophy in areas known to be involved in emotion processing, notably the amygdala. Whether patients with SD also experience difficulty recognizing emotions conveyed by other media, such as music, is unclear. Prior studies have used excerpts of known music from classical or film repertoire but not unfamiliar melodies designed to convey distinct emotions. Patients with SD (n=11), Alzheimer's disease (n=12) and healthy control participants (n=20) underwent tests of emotion recognition in two modalities: unfamiliar musical tunes and unknown faces as well as volumetric MRI. Patients with SD were most impaired with the recognition of facial and musical emotions, particularly for negative emotions. Voxel-based morphometry showed that the labelling of emotions, regardless of modality, correlated with the degree of atrophy in the right temporal pole, amygdala and insula. The recognition of musical (but not facial) emotions was also associated with atrophy of the left anterior and inferior temporal lobe, which overlapped with regions correlating with standardized measures of verbal semantic memory. These findings highlight the common neural substrates supporting the processing of emotions by facial and musical stimuli but also indicate that the recognition of emotions from music draws upon brain regions that are associated with semantics in language.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1814-1822
Number of pages9
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Alzheimer's disease
  • Emotions
  • Language
  • Music
  • Semantic dementia
  • Voxel-based morphometry

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