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Music is an integral part of life's highly pleasurable activities and has the ability to stimulate intellect as well as emotions. The neural mechanisms that allow for music to be considered as meaningful by humans are, however, poorly understood. Some musicologists have proposed that the creation of anticipatory structures modifying figure/ground relations is at the heart of what allows music to be meaningful and to convey emotion. Here, we review our current knowledge of how music is translated to the subjective meaningful experience of emotion and pleasure in both performers and listeners. We propose that anticipation acts as a fundamental mechanism underlying musical structuring and that this taps into the way that the brain works on different levels with a capacity to evoke pleasure in humans. Exemplified by two distinct, pleasure-evoking responses to music, the so-called 'chills', and the sensation of swing, we argue that the hedonic evaluation of both of these responses to music is mediated through the reward system, and is as such related to the underlying principles of musical expectancy. © 2010 Maney Publishing.

Original publication




Journal article


Interdisciplinary Science Reviews

Publication Date





166 - 182