The development of musical expectancy is a key component in one’s ability to perceive emotion and meaning in the music of one’s culture. Such expectations are not consciously learned, but developed implicitly over long exposure to certain kinds of music. As such, expectancies are certain to be influenced by culture, but it is unclear how quickly listeners can assimilate the rules of an unfamiliar musical system. Past research has demonstrated that culture can influence perceptions of tonal hierarchy as well as some aspects of affective response, while other affective qualities are perceptible across cultures. In our previous work we have found that music memory performance differs in behavior and brain activation based on the cultural background of the listener and their level of exposure to a particular culture. In our most recent work we examined listeners’ sensitivity to expectancy violations across different cultures using Event Related Potential (ERP) methodology. ERP has been used to measure neurological responses to unexpected events in both musical and linguistic contexts.
Recent research into second language acquisition has found that ERP measures can reveal implicit language learning before such information becomes part of conscious awareness. ERP responses to musical violations may provide a promising avenue for exploring cross-cultural musical learning and cognition at the neurological level.