The sensation of groove engages motor and reward networks

Tomas Matthews, Maria Witek, Torben Lund, Peter Vuust, Virginia Penhune

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)
194 Downloads (Pure)


The sensation of groove has been defined as the pleasurable desire to move to music, suggesting that both motor timing and reward processes are involved in this experience. Although many studies have investigated rhythmic timing and musical reward separately, none have examined whether the associated cortical and subcortical networks are engaged while participants listen to groove-based music. In the current study, musicians and nonmusicians listened to and rated experimentally controlled groove-based stimuli while undergoing functional magnetic resonance imaging. Medium complexity rhythms elicited higher ratings of pleasure and wanting to move and were associated with activity in regions linked to beat perception and reward, as well as prefrontal and parietal regions implicated in generating and updating stimuli-based expectations. Activity in basal ganglia regions of interest, including the nucleus accumbens, caudate and putamen, was associated with ratings of pleasure and wanting to move, supporting their important role in the sensation of groove. We propose a model in which different cortico-striatal circuits interact to support the mechanisms underlying groove, including internal generation of the beat, beat-based expectations, and expectation-based affect. These results show that the sensation of groove is supported by motor and reward networks in the brain and, along with our proposed model, suggest that the basal ganglia are crucial nodes in networks that interact to generate this powerful response to music.
Original languageEnglish
Article number116768
Pages (from-to)1-12
Number of pages12
Early online date23 Mar 2020
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by Erasmus Mundus Student Exchange Network in Auditory Cognitive Neuroscience , the Fonds de Recherche du Quebec – Nature et Technologies [ 198489 ], the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada [ 2015-04225 ], and the Danish Research Foundation [ DNRF 117 ]. The authors would like to thank Jessica Thompson for technical support, David Ricardo Quiroga-Martinez for help with data collection, and Robert Zatorre, along with two anonymous reviewers, for helpful comments on this manuscript.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 The Authors

Copyright 2020 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • groove
  • fMRI
  • beat
  • rhythmic complexity
  • basal ganglia
  • reward


Dive into the research topics of 'The sensation of groove engages motor and reward networks'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this