Courtesy: Northwestern University

Courtesy: Northwestern University

Last week in Boston, the Cognitive Neuroscience Society hosted its annual meeting, bringing together some of the brightest minds in academia to share exciting new research in the field of cognitive neuroscience. Poster presentations and symposia sessions were as wide and varied as the field itself, with topics ranging from our developing understanding of language processing to the dynamic role of functional neuroimaging to the complexity of sleep and its impact on the brain and our lives.

One particularly interesting poster presentation caught our eyes (and the eyes of the meeting attendees — it was a People’s Choice Award winner!). Ever wonder why a certain song evokes a strong emotional reaction within you? Think: songs from graduation ceremonies, weddings, break ups. You get the picture. Well, there’s a neurobiological reason for that! There is a part of our brain — the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) — that has been understood to be the center that interweaves music with memory and emotion.

So what happens when this region of the brain is damaged? Researchers from the University of Iowa recruited volunteers with no brain damage, damage to other parts of the brain and damage to the mPFC. The researchers exposed each participant to a musical stimulus (popular music from when they were 15-30 years old) or visual stimulus (facial images of prominent people during those same years). The participants were then asked to describe what memories came to mind.

The investigators found that volunteers with no brain damage or damage to other areas of the brain recalled music-evoked memories with much, much more detail then facial-evoked memories. On the other hand, volunteers with mPFC damage recalled fewer vivid music-evoked memories, and any music-evoked memories they could describe were not any more detailed or vivid than facial-evoked memories. Their findings suggest the powerful ability to recall detailed memories from songs comes from this 3-pound jelly-like organ inside our heads!


Here are some other mind-tickling poster presentations that caught our eyes:

1. Even though the right hemisphere of our brains is thought to be more strongly associated with music perception, aphasic individuals (language dysfunction) with damage to the left hemisphere also suffer from amusia (music perception disorder).

2. Deep brain stimulation of the subthalamic nucleus caused study participants to make less risky financial decisions. Know anyone who might benefit from this?

3. Women are much better at perceiving the color red than men. Principal investigators give their two cents on why this could be. *Cue Chris de Burgh’s Lady in Red.

4. A patient who feels like he or she has more in common with a doctor will report less pain than those who didn’t feel that way, regardless of ethnic differences.

5. Gray matter volume in the amygdala could influence how accurately we determine trustworthiness in people.


And there’s more where that came from. Head over to the Cognitive Neuroscience Society's page to read through more fascinating poster presentations!


Bonus video. We'll leave this right here.