The fate of sounds in conductors' brains: An ERP study

Wido Nager, Christine Kohlmetz, Eckart Altenmüller, Antoni Rodriguez-Fornells, Thomas F. Münte*

*Corresponding author for this work
62 Citations (Scopus)


Professional music conductors are required to home in on a particular musician but at the same time have to monitor the entire orchestra. It was hypothesized that this unique experience should be reflected by superior auditory spatial processing. Event-related brain potentials were obtained, while conductors, professional pianists, and non-musicians listened to sequences of bandpass-filtered noise-bursts presented in random order from six speakers, three located in front and three to the right of the subjects. In different runs, subjects either attended the centermost or the most peripheral speaker in order to detect slightly deviant noise-bursts. For centrally located speakers, the ERPs showed a typical Nd attention effect for the relevant location with a steep decline for the neighboring speakers in all subject groups. For peripheral speakers, only the conductors showed attentional selectivity, while the Nd effect was of similar size for all three peripheral speakers in the other two groups. These ERP effects were paralleled by an enhanced behavioral selectivity in peripheral auditory space in conductors. Moreover, the pre-attentive monitoring of the entire auditory scene indexed by the mismatch negativity was superior in musicians compared to non-musicians. In conductors, the MMN was followed by a positivity suggesting an attention shift towards the deviant stimuli in this group only.

Original languageEnglish
JournalCognitive Brain Research
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)83-93
Number of pages11
Publication statusPublished - 01.01.2003

Research Areas and Centers

  • Academic Focus: Center for Brain, Behavior and Metabolism (CBBM)


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