We investigated whether music experts and laypersons differ with regard to aesthetic evaluation of musical sequences. 16 music experts and 16 music laypersons judged the aesthetic value (beauty judgment task) as well as the harmonic correctness (correctness judgment task) of chord sequences. The sequences consisted of five chords with the final chord sounding congruous, ambiguous or incongruous relative to the harmonic context established by the preceding four chords. On behavioural measures, few differences were observed between experts and laypersons. However, several differences in event-related potential (ERP) parameters were observed in auditory, cognitive and aesthetic processing of chord cadences between experts and laypersons. First, established ERP effects known to reflect the processing of harmonic rule violation were investigated. Here, differences between the groups were observed in the processing of the mild violation - experts and laypersons differed in their early brain responses to the beginning of the chord sequence. Furthermore, ERP data indicated distinctions between experts and laypersons in aesthetic evaluation at three different stages. Firstly, during the interval of task-cue presentation, a stronger contingent negative variation (CNV) to the beauty judgment task was observed for experts, indicating that experts invest more effort into preparation for aesthetic processes than into correctness judgments. Secondly, during the first four chords, preparation for the correctness judgment required more exertion on the laypersons' side. Thirdly, during the last chord, laypersons showed a larger late and widespread positivity for the beauty compared to the correctness judgment, indicating a stronger reliance on internal affective states while forming a judgment. © 2010 Elsevier B.V.
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