Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
Two fMRI experiments explored the neural substrates of a musical imagery task that required manipulation of the imagined sounds: temporal reversal of a melody. Musicians were presented with the first few notes of a familiar tune (Experiment 1) or its title (Experiment 2), followed by a string of notes that was either an exact or an inexact reversal. The task was to judge whether the second string was correct or not by mentally reversing all its notes, thus requiring both maintenance and manipulation of the represented string. Both experiments showed considerable activation of the superior parietal lobe (intraparietal sulcus) during the reversal process. Ventrolateral and dorsolateral frontal cortices were also activated, consistent with the memory load required during the task. We also found weaker evidence for some activation of right auditory cortex in both studies, congruent with results from previous simpler music imagery tasks. We interpret these results in the context of other mental transformation tasks, such as mental rotation in the visual domain, which are known to recruit the intraparietal sulcus region, and we propose that this region subserves general computations that require transformations of a sensory input. Mental imagery tasks may thus have both task or modality-specific components as well as components that supersede any specific codes and instead represent amodal mental manipulation.