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Aberrant rule- and reward-based processes underpin abnormalities of socio-emotional behaviour in major dementias. However, these processes remain poorly characterized. Here we used music to probe rule decoding and reward valuation in patients with frontotemporal dementia (FTD) syndromes and Alzheimer's disease (AD) relative to healthy age-matched individuals. We created short melodies that were either harmonically resolved ('finished') or unresolved ('unfinished'); the task was to classify each melody as finished or unfinished (rule processing) and rate its subjective pleasantness (reward valuation). Results were adjusted for elementary pitch and executive processing; neuroanatomical correlates were assessed using voxel-based morphometry. Relative to healthy older controls, patients with behavioural variant FTD showed impairments of both musical rule decoding and reward valuation, while patients with semantic dementia showed impaired reward valuation but intact rule decoding, patients with AD showed impaired rule decoding but intact reward valuation and patients with progressive non-fluent aphasia performed comparably to healthy controls. Grey matter associations with task performance were identified in anterior temporal, medial and lateral orbitofrontal cortices, previously implicated in computing diverse biological and non-biological rules and rewards. The processing of musical rules and reward distils cognitive and neuroanatomical mechanisms relevant to complex socio-emotional dysfunction in major dementias.

Original publication




Journal article


Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci

Publication Date





192 - 202


Aged, Aging, Anticipation, Psychological, Aphasia, Broca, Female, Frontotemporal Dementia, Gray Matter, Humans, Magnetic Resonance Imaging, Male, Middle Aged, Models, Psychological, Music, Pitch Perception, Psychomotor Performance, Reward, Socioeconomic Factors