Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
The cognitive processing of concepts, that is, abstract general ideas, has been mostly studied with language. However, other domains, such as music, can also convey concepts. Koelsch et al. [Koelsch, S., Kasper, E., Sammler, D., Schulze, K., Gunter, T., & Friederici, A. D. Music, language and meaning: Brain signatures of semantic processing. Nature Neuroscience, 7, 302–307, 2004] showed that 10 sec of music can influence the semantic processing of words. However, the length of the musical excerpts did not allow the authors to study the effect of words on musical targets. In this study, we decided to replicate Koelsch et al. findings using 1-sec musical excerpts (Experiment 1). This allowed us to study the reverse influence, namely, of a linguistic context on conceptual processing of musical excerpts (Experiment 2). In both experiments, we recorded behavioral and electrophysiological responses while participants were presented 50 related and 50 unrelated pairs (context/target). Experiments 1 and 2 showed a larger N400 component of the event-related brain potentials to targets following a conceptually unrelated compared to a related context. The presence of an N400 effect with musical targets suggests that music may convey concepts. The relevance of these results for the comprehension of music as a structured set of conceptual units and for the domain specificity of the mechanisms underlying N400 effects are discussed.