Neural correlates of cross-modal affective priming by music in Williams syndrome.


Emotional connection is the main reason people engage with music, and the emotional features of music can influence processing in other domains. Williams syndrome (WS) is a neurodevelopmental genetic disorder where musicality and sociability are prominent aspects of the phenotype. This study examined oscillatory brain activity during a musical affective priming paradigm. Participants with WS and age-matched typically developing controls heard brief emotional musical excerpts or emotionally neutral sounds and then reported the emotional valence (happy/sad) of subsequently presented faces. Participants with WS demonstrated greater evoked fronto-central alpha activity to the happy vs sad musical excerpts. The size of these alpha effects correlated with parent-reported emotional reactivity to music. Although participant groups did not differ in accuracy of identifying facial emotions, reaction time data revealed a music priming effect only in persons with WS, who responded faster when the face matched the emotional valence of the preceding musical excerpt vs when the valence differed. Matching emotional valence was also associated with greater evoked gamma activity thought to reflect cross-modal integration. This effect was not present in controls. The results suggest a specific connection between music and socioemotional processing and have implications for clinical and educational approaches for WS.