Music, the universal language of mood, emotion and desire,
connects with us through a wide variety of neural systems.
Researchers have discovered evidence that music stimulates
specific regions of the brain responsible for memory, language
and motor control. They have located specific areas of mental
activity linked to the emotional responses elicited by music.
Now new research conclusions have identified how the affect
of music could replicate the effects of hormone replacement
therapy in the prevention of Alzheimer's disease and dementia.
The August 7 issue of Medical Hypotheses reports
these conclusions resulting from experience that has shown
music to be useful in therapy for neuropsychiatric disorders
resulting from both functional and organic origins. However,
the mechanisms of the action of music on the brain have
remained largely unknown despite an increase in scientific
studies on the topic.
The results of past studies have clarified that music influences
and affects cranial nerves in humans from fetus to adult.
To explain how it works at the cellular level, researchers
proposed that the neurogenesis, regeneration and repair
of the cerebral nerves are the result of adjustments through
the secretion of steroid hormones ultimately leading to
Music affects levels of such steroids as cortisone, testosterone
and estrogen, and it is believed that music also affects
the receptor genes related to these substances and related
proteins. Unlike supplementing the brain through hormone
replacement therapy which can have side effects, music
is natural, and its existence is universal and mundane.
If music can be used in medical care, the application of
such a safe and inexpensive therapeutic option is limitless.
It has also been shown that music is able to improve the
mood state of people with psychiatric disorders, ameliorate
the cognitive deficits in those with dementia, and increase
motor functioning in Parkinson patients, as documented in
the September 18, 2007 edition of Behavioural Pharmacology.
Researchers investigated the effect of music on brain neurotrophin
production and behavior.
They exposed young adult mice to music with a slow rhythm
for 21 consecutive days. At the end of the treatment period,
the mice were tested for passive avoidance learning. The
music-exposed mice showed increased brain-derived neurotrophic
factor in the hippocampus. Music exposure also significantly
enhanced learning performance as measured by the passive
avoidance test. They concluded that music exposure might
be of help in several central nervous system pathologies.
Music influences the neuronal development in children
It was Luciano Pavarotti who said, "If children are not
introduced to music at an early age, I believe something
fundamental is actually being taken from them." Music affects
mood, concentration, creativity, and influences the ability
Neuronal connections in the brain of the infant and young
child are formed through experiences and strengthened through
repetitions until predictable pathways of cognitive processing
are established. Once these pathways are formed, it is as
though they are hardwired and cannot be changed without
much effort. Music and rhythm is essential to the developing
brain as it helps to create and strengthen more neural connections
that allow for auditory processing. The act of processing
music stimuli elaborates these neural connections in the
brain, influencing processing quality of auditory stimuli
over the lifetime.
The biology of music
"Undeniably, there is a biology of music," according to
Harvard University Medical School neurobiologist Mark Jude
Tramo. He sees it as beyond question that there is specialization
within the brain for the processing of music. Music is a
biological part of life as surely as it is an aesthetic
Studies as far back as 1990 found that the brain responds
to harmony. Using a PET scanner to monitor changes in neural
activity, neuroscientists at McGill University discovered
that the part of the brain activated by music is dependent
on whether or not the music is pleasant or dissonant.
The brain grows in response to musical training in the way
a muscle responds to exercise. Researchers at Beth Israel
Deaconess Medical Center in Boston discovered that male
musicians have larger brains than men who have not had extensive
musical training. The cerebellums, that part of the brain
containing 70 percent of the total brain's neurons, were
5 percent larger in expert male musicians.
Researchers have found evidence of the power of music to
affect neural activity no matter where they looked in the
brain, from primitive regions found in animals to more recently
evolved areas thought to be strictly human such as the frontal
lobes. Harmony, melody and rhythm invoke distinct patterns
of brain activity.
This new research is beginning to help those involved in
cognitive rehabilitation. Music is now used with patients
with stroke, schizophrenia, Huntington's, Alzheimer's and
traumatic brain injury among others.