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The Effects of Music and the Brain


Motivational/Hedonic (pleasure) / Learning / Memory

I think the major point here, making music engages all of these components. These will not be discussed in detail here. I hope that readers will go through this list and ask themselves the relation of music to each of these brain functions. Just think about everything that one does while playing from a score.

Finally, some speculative conclusions that can serve as a first approximation to better understand how music interacts with the brain.

Making Music "exercises" the whole brain and mind.

Making Music can strengthen synapses in all brain systems.

Making Music increases the brain's capacity and resources by increasing the strength of connections among its neurons.

This "sketch" provides a starting point for considering the effects of music on the brain that would be the neural substrates of effects of music on cognition and behavior. Whether or not research on such effects influences educational philosophy and practical decisions about the role of music in curricula, understanding the substrates of music should illuminate both music itself and the workings of the brain and mind.

Briefly Noted

Wellness, Survival, Music and the Arts

The processes that contribute to health and longevity are of great interest. A recent publication provides evidence that attendance at cultural events, reading and making music or singing in a choir are associated with both health and longevity. Dr. Lars Olov Bygren and co-workers at the Department of Social Medicine in the University of Umeň in Sweden studied 12, 675 people, selected as a random sample of the Swedish population. The age range was 16-74 years. They were interviewed first in 1982-83 and followed-up until the beginning of 1992. Many variables were studied. As might be expected, smoking, long term disease and lack of exercise were associated with increased mortality. When all other variables were controlled for, the authors found that involvement in cultural events, reading and music were related positively to longevity (British Medical Journal, 1996, vol. 313, pgs. 1577-1580). Interestingly, educational level was not related to these effects. The authors are appropriately cautious about drawing strong conclusions. Additional demographic studies should be of great interest, particularly to determine if such positive relationships hold across cultural groups.

Melodic Therapy Changes Brain Activation and Promotes Language Recovery After Brain Damage

Music therapies are in widespread use for a variety of behavioral and neurological problems. When positive effects are obtained on behavior, the brain mechanisms involved remain a mystery. Now comes evidence that a certain type of music therapy has behavioral benefits via measurable changes in brain function. Dr. Pascal Belin and his associates, working at the Service Hospitalier Frederic Joliot in Orsay and other institutions in France report that Melodic Intonation Therapy (MIT) promotes recovery from aphasia, a severe language disorder subsequent to stroke. MIT involves speaking in a type of musical manner, characterized by strong melodic (two notes, high and low) and temporal (two durations, long and short) components. Reporting in the December 1966 issue of Neurology(vol. 47, pgs. 1504-1511), Belin et al studied seven patients who had a lengthy absence of spontaneous recovery. They also evaluated the effects of MIT on the brain by measuring relative cerebral blood flow (CBF) and PET scanning during hearing and

repetition of simple words and of "MIT-loaded" words. MIT produced recovery of speech capabilities. Of great interest, a critical regions of the brain was activated by "MIT-loaded" words but not regular words. This is Broca's Area in the left hemisphere, known for over 100 years to be critically implicated in language and speech. The authors believe that the reactivation by MIT of Broca's Area was critical to recovery of speech. These findings provide enormous promise for both the treatment of aphasia and understanding the role of music in normal and abnormal brain function.

Music and Spatial Task Performance

Music and Spatial Task Performance
Frances H. Rausher  - Gordon L. Shaw* - Katherine N. Ky
Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory,
University of California, Irvine, California 92717, USA

  There are correlational , historical ,and anectodal relationships between music cognition and other `higher brain functions', but no causal relationship has been demonstrated between music and cognition and cognitions pertaining to abstract operations such as mathematical or spatial reasoning. We performed an experiment in which students were each given three sets of standard IQ spatial reasoning tasks; each task was preceded by 10 minutes of (1) listening to Mozart's sonata for two pianos in D major, K448; (2) listening to a relaxation tape; or (3) silence. Performance was improved for those tasks immediately following the first condidion compared to the second two. Thirty-six college students participated in all three listening conditions. Immediately following each listening condition, the student's spatial 4 reasoning skills were tested using the Stanford-Binet intelligence scale . The mean standard age scores (SAS) for the three listening conditions are shown in the figure. The music condition yielded a mean SAS of 57.56; the mean SAS for the relaxation condition was 54.61 and the mean score for the silent condition was 54.00. To assess the impact of these scores, we `translated' them to spatial IQ scores of 119, 111 and 110, respectively. Thus, the IQs of subjects participating in the music condidion were 8-9 points above their IQ scores in the other two conditions. A one-factor (listening condition) repeated measures analysis of variance (ANOVA) performed on SAS revealed that subjects performed better on the abstract/spatial reasoning tests after listening to Mozart than after listening to either the relaxation tape or to nothing (F = 7.08; 2,35 P = 0.002). The music condition differed significantly from both the relaxation and the silence conditions (Scheffe's t = 3.41, P = 0.002; t = 3.67, P = 0.0008, two-tailed, respectively). The relaxation and silence conditions did not differ (t = 0.795; P = 0.432, two-tailed). Pulse rates were taken before and after each listening condition. A two-factor (listening condition and time of pulse measure) repeated measures ANOVA revealed no interaction or main effects for pulse, thereby excluding arousal as an obvious cause. We found no order effects for either condition presentation or task, nor any experimenter effect. The enhancing effect of the music condition is temporal, and does not extend beyond the 10-15 minute period during which subjects were engaged in each spatial task. Inclusion of a delay period (as a variable) between the music listening condition and the testing period would allow us quantitatively to determine the presence of a decay constant. It would also be interesting to vary the listening time to optimize the enhancing effect, and to examine whether other measures of general intelligence (verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning and short-term memory) would be similarly facilitated. Because we used only one musical sample of one composer, various other compositions and musical styles should also be examined. We predict that music lacking complexity or which is repetitive may interfere with, rather than enhance, abstract reasoning. Also, as musicians may process music in a different way from non-musicians, it would be interesting to compare these two groups. Figure note: Testing procedure. In the music condition, the subject listened to 10 min of the Mozart piece. The relaxation condition required the subject to listen to 10 min of relaxation instructions designed to lower blood pressure. The silence condition required the subject to sit in silence for 10 min. One of three abstract reasoning tests taken from the 4 Stanford-Binet intelligence scale was given after each of the listening conditions. The abstract/spatial reasoningtasks consisted of a pattern analysis test, a multiple-choice matrices test and a multiple-choice paper-folding and cutting test. For our sample, these three tasks correlated at the 0.01 level of significance. We were thus able to treat them as equal measures of abstract reasoning ability. Scoring. Raw scores were calculated by subtracting the number of items failed from the highest item number administered. These were then converted to SAS using the Stanford-Binet's SAS conversion table of normalized standard scores with a mean set at 50 and a standard deviation of 8. IQ equivalents were calculated by first mulitplying each SAS by 3 (the number of subtests required by the Stanford-Binet for calculating IQs). We then used their area score conversion table, designed to have a mean of 100 and a standard deviation of 16, to obtain SAS IQ equivalents.
1. Hassler, M., Birbaumer, N. & Feil, A. Psychol. Music (13), 99-113 (1985). 2. Allman, G.J. Greek Geometry from Thales to Euclid p.23 (Arno, New York, 1976). 3. Cranberg, L.D. & Albert, M. L. in The Exceptional Brain (eds Obler, L.K. & Fein, D.) 156 (Guilford, New York, 1988). 4. Thorndike, R. L., Hagen, E. P. & Sattler, J. M. The Stanford-Binet Scale of Intelligence (Riverside, Chicago, 1986). Nature, Vol. 365, 14 October 1993, p. 611
Reprints: Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, University of California, Irvine, California 92717, USA

A special Thanks to University of California Irvine (MuSICA) 



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