Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

, Volume 22, Issue 3, pp 637–652 | Cite as

Processing structure in language and music: a case for shared reliance on cognitive control

  • L. Robert Slevc
  • Brooke M. Okada
Theoretical Review


The relationship between structural processing in music and language has received increasing interest in the past several years, spurred by the influential Shared Syntactic Integration Resource Hypothesis (SSIRH; Patel, Nature Neuroscience, 6, 674–681, 2003). According to this resource-sharing framework, music and language rely on separable syntactic representations but recruit shared cognitive resources to integrate these representations into evolving structures. The SSIRH is supported by findings of interactions between structural manipulations in music and language. However, other recent evidence suggests that such interactions also can arise with nonstructural manipulations, and some recent neuroimaging studies report largely nonoverlapping neural regions involved in processing musical and linguistic structure. These conflicting results raise the question of exactly what shared (and distinct) resources underlie musical and linguistic structural processing. This paper suggests that one shared resource is prefrontal cortical mechanisms of cognitive control, which are recruited to detect and resolve conflict that occurs when expectations are violated and interpretations must be revised. By this account, musical processing involves not just the incremental processing and integration of musical elements as they occur, but also the incremental generation of musical predictions and expectations, which must sometimes be overridden and revised in light of evolving musical input.


Language Music Syntax Cognitive control Musical ambiguity 



The authors thank David Bashwiner, Nina Hsu, Eugene Montague, Mattson Ogg, Aniruddh Patel, Elizabeth Redcay, and Jason Reitman for helpful comments about earlier versions of this manuscript.


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© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of MarylandCollege ParkUSA

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