Psychology in the News

March 26, 2009

Healing the brain through music

Filed under: brain damage, brain wiring, health, music — Tags: , , , , , , , — intro2psych @ 7:36 am

By  Jennifer Beckerman

Photo by foreversouls

Photo by foreversouls

Over the years, researchers have studied the various effects of music on human health, intelligence, and well-being, but more recently, researchers came to fascinating conclusions regarding music’s medicinal qualities.  Music’s various positive benefits reach diverse groups of people: adolescents involved with music perform better in school , music increases exercise endurance by up to 15%, music lowers stress levels, anxiety, and depression in pregnant women, and may be an inexpensive and enjoyable way to facilitate recovery in stroke patients -imagine that!

In order to fully comprehend music’s influence on stroke recovery, we must consider the mechanics.  A stroke occurs when blood supply to part of the brain is blocked, which prevents the admittance of oxygen and glucose.  Without oxygen, brain cells die.  This blockage results most commonly from the blockage of a small artery within the brain itself, but there are several other mechanisms for a stroke as well.  Some factors that lead to strokes and artery blockage include: high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and smoking.    Strokes are unexpected and dangerous incidences that remain the third leading cause of death in the United States behind heart disease and cancer. A Harvard Imaging technique reveals increased brain activity when people play or listen to music because more blood and oxygen flow to the brain, healing brain damage.

Researchers find that music aides in the recovery process by improving damage to verbal memory and attention. The brain is more plastic immediately following a stroke episode, and greater plasticity- the brain’s ability to re-wire itself – increases music’s effect.  So, the optimal time for music therapy is during the first weeks of stroke recovery for a couple hours per day (University of Helsinki, 2008).  Music not only enhances attention and triggers verbal memory but also improves mood, heightening a pleasurable response.
Särkämö, a PhD student at the Cognitive Brain Research Unit, Department of Psychology, at the University of Helsinki and at the Helsinki Brain Research Centre (in Finland), conducted an experiment with stroke recovery patients to test this hypothesis.  Prior to treatment, patients exhibited problems with movement, cognitive processes, attention, and memory as a result of their strokes.  He randomly assigned them to three different groups: a music listening group, a language group, or a control group.  For six months, the music group religiously listened to a musical genre of their choice, while the language group listened to audio books.  The control group did not listen to any auditory material during this time.  All other conditions remained the same for the three groups.  The results showed that music listeners had an improvement of 60 percent, compared to the first week after the stroke.  That was more than twice the improvement in the non-listeners, and three times the improvement in the audio book listeners. Furthermore, focused attention improved by 17 percent for music listeners but not at all for the other groups (University of Helsinki, 2008).  Additional improvements were noted in the music listener’s mood.  This experiment applauds music’s extraordinary ability to rehabilitate the brain.  More universally, this illustrates a stimulus that emotionally connects the listener with his or her environment.  Music that grabs the patient’s attention and moves him or her can repair and renew previously damaged neural networks.

Music therapy can be applied in different ways depending on severity and type of brain damage.  Damage to Broca’s area (left frontal lobe) inhibits speech, but a healthy right hemisphere can still process melody and rhythm.  “Melodic Intonation Therapy,” cured a patient who suffered from “aphasia”-loss of the ability to produce and/or comprehend language.  The patient created sentences in rhythm to melodies to facilitate coherent speech.  Before, he could not string simple sentences or phrases together.  Eventually, the patient detached the melody from the lyrics to form normal speaking sentences.

The basic requirement for music therapy hinges on a stimulus that sparks a connection with the listener.  The listener chose the music genre most pleasurable to himself/herself.  Whether it is raga, classical, pop, jazz, or rock, music stimulates a pleasurable emotional response that aids the brain in recovery from damage like a stroke.
References

Brunel University (2008, October 2). Jog To The Beat: Music Increases Exercise Endurance By 15%. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 23, 2009, from http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2008/10/081001093753.htm

Cromie, W. J. (1997). How Your Brain Listens to Music. The Harvard University Gazette. Retrieved from http://www.hno.harvard.edu/gazette/1997/11.13/HowYourBrainLis.html

DeNoon, D. J. (2008). Music Mends Minds After Stroke. WebMD Health News. Retrieved from http://www.webmd.com/stroke/news/20080219/music-mends-minds-after-stroke?print=true

Internet Stroke Center at Washington University in St. Louis (2009). Stroke Statistics. Retrieved February 21, 2009, from http://www.strokecenter.org/patients/stats.htm

RedOrbit News (2008, April 24).  Music Therapy Helps Stroke Patients Recover.  International Herald Tribune.  Retrieved February 16, 2009, from http://www.redorbit.com/news/health/1356635/music_therapy_helps_stroke_patients_recover/index.html

University of Helsinki (2008, Feb. 21).  Listening To Music Improves Stroke Patients’ Recovery, Study Shows.  ScienceDaily.  Retrieved from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/02/080219203554.htm

Wedro, B. C. (2009). What is a Stroke. Stroke. Retrieved February 16, 2009, from http://www.medicinenet.com/stroke/article.htm

Wiley-Blackwell (2008, October 14). Soothing Music Reduces Stress, Anxiety And Depression During Pregnancy. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 23, 2009, from http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2008/10/081006093020.htm

Wiley-Blackwell (2009, February 11). Adolescents Involved With Music Do Better In School. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 23, 2009, from http://www.sciencedaily.com­/releases/2009/02/090210110043.htm

14 Comments »

  1. […] Read the original:  Healing the brain through music « Psychology in the News […]

    Pingback by Healing the brain through music « Psychology in the News | MusicalAids.Com — March 26, 2009 @ 9:30 am

  2. This article was very interesting to me. The author wrote a lot about how music can repair actual brain damage, but I am more curious about the effects of music on someone suffering from depression or post-traumatic stress disorder. I have definitely seen people turn to music or use it to distract themselves when dealing with a difficult matter. I know that music helps me to block out anxious thoughts as I try to fall asleep at night.
    In an article from Science Daily (http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/09/060920093024.htm) researchers found that children who study music early on have improved memory over a time span as short as a year. It was not surprising that the music students exhibited greater melody, harmony, and rhythm processing that the other students. However, the music students also showed greater improvement on tests that did not relate to music, such as spatial memory tests involving a digit span. Maturation in subjects as unrelated as mathematics was also faster for the students who had studied music. One researcher, Dr. Fujioka, suggests that music should be a stronger part of the pre-school and elementary school curriculum. When I was in elementary school, we had some musical training but only very infrequently. Since music is something that most children enjoy and also helps cognitive development, educators should really look into expanding its role.

    Comment by Caitlin Bull — March 30, 2009 @ 12:02 pm

  3. I appreciate how this post incorporated a lot of other positive effects of music, such as how it improves exercise endurance and reduces anxiety and depression, but I wonder if research has been done investigating why music has these effects? The author mentions that brain activity increases upon listening to music, but as far as I can tell, no proposal has been put forth about why this is. One could postulate that the application of sound as a stimulus just causes more neurons to fire and therefore increases brain activity, but this does not explain why, in the stroke study, audio book listeners had worse performance than non-listeners. My feeling is that it has something to do with neurons firing in parallel to a steady beat, but I don’t really have anything on which to base that guess. Even still, it is good to know that music isn’t only enjoyable, it’s also beneficial.

    Comment by Will Jobs — April 4, 2009 @ 3:06 pm

    • Many of these comments inquire as to how music might produce more medicinal results than audiotapes alone.

      While I do not have the knowledge or satisfying, empirical evidence to prove the direct relation between that intangible variable of music and how it affects our minds, perhaps a few facets of the brain’s perception of music and how they might factor into the results found in this study could be illuminated upon.

      The brain is the most complex mass of protoplasm on earth, as stated by neuroanatomist Marian Diamond (Ford, 2009). And we perceive our environment in just as complex of terms. In Daniel Levitin’s book, This is your Brain on Music, he delves into the many effects of music on the brain. Listening and interpreting music is one of the most complex functions our brain performs (Levitin, 2006): “Musical activity involves nearly every region of the brain that we know about, and nearly every neural subsystem.” (pg 85)
      The music is first perceived in the sub-cortical structures of the cochlear nuclei, the brain stem, and the cerebellum. If the music, or musical style, is familiar, then areas of the hippocampus are activated as well. In response to music, the deeper, more reptilian areas of our brain activate our emotions(pg 86-88).
      But even more than this gross simplification, our brains are analyzing constantly the tones, how they meet or defy our expectations, tempo, variations, pitch, and so much more. Our brain integrates this information via parallel processing, in which the perceptions of certain sensations is computed in many regions at once. In the same meter, the areas of the brain covered above—and infinitely more—are activated while listening to music (far more, at least, than listening to audio cassettes).
      In order to experience the result of all this brain activity—music– our brain has to connect the multiple processes of perception (pg88), and that demands strong networks of neurons. I might hypothesize that it is through this music therapy that stroke patients show more signs of recovery than those who do not go without. Perhaps the music encourages the brain’s plasticity potential by helping to develop more connections among neurons (through the growth of dendrites) and regions of the brain.

      Ford, Andrea (2009/4/27). Logging On to the Ivy League. TIME, 173,
      NO.16, 43-44.

      Levitin, Daniel (2006). This is your Brain on Music. New York, New
      York: Plume.

      Comment by Annie Hill — April 27, 2009 @ 10:22 pm

  4. The main proposal that this post illustrates is that listening to music benefits the brain, i.e. the enhancement of brain damage reparation. This proposal necessitates a further look at the differences when listening to various types of music. Does one music genre outperform the other in improving brain damage? Much of the research on this issue has been composed of small trials using various music types, without actually looking at the specifics between the types. This can be seen in one study where music’s ability to lower stress in heart disease patients was studied (http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/04/090409104303.htm). Another issue is that of correlation versus causation. It may seem obscure at the moment, but it may be certain cognitive processes, the way we perceive the music, triggered by the music rather than the music itself that leads to greater repair. For instance, the way in which we identify songs may play a part (http://caliber.ucpress.net/doi/abs/10.1525/mp.2003.21.2.217). What spurred me to ask this question was that the author reported greater reparation in music listeners compared with audiobook listeners. According to the author’s reference (http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/04/090409104303.htm), verbal memory improved from the first week post-stroke by 60 percent in music listeners, by 18 percent in audiobook listeners, and by 29 percent in non-listeners. The question is “What accounts for these significant differences from one medium to the other?” Särkämö suggests one reason for the greatest verbal memory improvement in the music listeners is music’s combination of music and voice (63 percent of music contained lyrics). It would be interesting to see why exactly this combination is more beneficial than non-lyrics music alone as well as why the audiobook listeners would have less of a beneficial outcome than the non-listeners group. Also, a correlational study on the magnitude of verbal memory improvement based on a lyrics to non-lyrics music ratio would help extend our insights on the matter.

    Comment by Danielle Sloan — April 20, 2009 @ 11:39 pm

  5. The main proposal that this post illustrates is that listening to music benefits the brain, i.e. the enhancement of brain damage reparation. This proposal necessitates a further look at the differences when listening to various types of music. Does one music genre outperform the other in improving brain damage? Much of the research on this issue has been composed of small trials using various music types, without actually looking at the specifics between the types. This can be seen in one study where music’s ability to lower stress in heart disease patients was studied ( HYPERLINK “http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/04/090409104303.htm” http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/04/090409104303.htm). Another issue is that of correlation versus causation. It may seem obscure at the moment, but it may be certain cognitive processes, the way we perceive the music, triggered by the music rather than the music itself that leads to greater repair. For instance, the way in which we identify songs may play a part ( HYPERLINK “http://caliber.ucpress.net/doi/abs/10.1525/mp.2003.21.2.217″ http://caliber.ucpress.net/doi/abs/10.1525/mp.2003.21.2.217). What spurred me to ask this question was that the author reported greater reparation in music listeners compared with audiobook listeners. According to the author’s reference ( HYPERLINK “http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/04/090409104303.htm” http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/04/090409104303.htm), verbal memory improved from the first week post-stroke by 60 percent in music listeners, by 18 percent in audiobook listeners, and by 29 percent in non-listeners. The question is “What accounts for these significant differences from one medium to the other?” Särkämö suggests one reason for the greatest verbal memory improvement in the music listeners is music’s combination of music and voice (63 percent of music contained lyrics). It would be interesting to see why exactly this combination is more beneficial than non-lyrics music alone as well as why the audiobook listeners would have less of a beneficial outcome than the non-listeners group. Also, a correlational study on the magnitude of verbal memory improvement based on a lyrics to non-lyrics music ratio would help extend our insights on the matter.

    Comment by Danielle Sloan — April 21, 2009 @ 10:20 am

  6. Does music without words have the same effect as with words? This article details more specifically the advantages of music in restoring verbal ability and function in the brain. But music is deeper than just the words that are set to it, and the verbal aspect does not explain exactly why music makes people happy, and why it is something perhaps more universal than language. Even animals such as humpback whales might enjoy music. Music is clearly something enjoyable and beneficial on a very primal level, and it would be interesting to better understand why that is.

    Comment by Dan Schwarzman — May 3, 2009 @ 3:33 pm

  7. I found this post really interesting considering what a huge part music plays in the lives of most people now that there is easier access to music with the internet and other technologies. One thing that struck me was how the patient with damage to Broca’s area, who a still an intact right hemisphere, used music, with its rhythms and melodies, to help him string together coherent speech. This is interesting, because infants are shown to use melodies and rhythms in order to understanding language when they are just beginning to acquire it. In one musical study done at Cornell university, the results displayed that infants had the ability to infer meter from rhythmic patterns and that they can use this metrical structure to gain knowledge about language, (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science?_ob=ArticleURL&_udi=B6WCR-4DW8WFC-1&_user=557743&_rdoc=1&_fmt=&_orig=search&_sort=d&view=c&_acct=C000028458&_version=1&_urlVersion=0&_userid=557743&md5=72108d33a3249159d1afc1b647422a4e) Even when a parent talks to their child, this type of infant-directed speech is very musical, in that it has melodies and rhythms, which infants pick up on to facilitate their communication and learning of language (Myers, section on language). These stroke, or other brain damaged patients, by listening to music, could be using some of the same techniques a child uses when they listen to their parents speak in order to pick up the melody and rhythm of language.

    Comment by Shannon Fleming — May 4, 2009 @ 1:02 pm

  8. I have to agree with the positive health affect associated with music. i think the primary reason music has so many benefits is it overall stimulus of the brain. While talking to a loved one or just listening to familiar sounds can activate certain parts of the brain individually, I think it is musics ability to affect many areas at once that allow it to stimulate and essentially heal the brain so thoroughly. One aspect of music are the actual lyrics that stimulate the speech regions of the brain (e.g. Broca’s area). Another aspect mentioned was the melody’s intonation and the subjects mood association with melody. I think this is a key component of music therapy because it helps the subject’s brain stimulate positive and happy emotions. i think another key component is just the basic auditory processing of the music samples that may also trigger long-term memory regions in the hippocampus (this is just speculation). Thus, because of all the neural stimulation, I completely agree with music’s healing capabilities since neural stimulation often leads to the production of more dendrites and neural connections.

    I think this also completely ties in with music and auditory stimulation and associations in babies. Just like how babies are attracted to their mother’s voice either by its pleasant tone or intonation or the baby’s association with the mother as comfort, it all stimulates the brain.

    Comment by Aaron Suzuka — May 5, 2009 @ 10:14 am

  9. Music has played a big part in my life, so I definitely agree with the argument that music presents many positive health benefits. I play violin, and listen to music just about every chance I can. Based on personal experience, my stress decreases and my general mood is in fact more positive while being involved in anything musical. After reading this article, I decided to look up why this is so. My guess was that music serves as something to distract me from thinking stressful thoughts, but the biology(?) behind it sounds more accurate. Listening to music actually causes a drop in the levels of cortisol produced by your body, a hormone that, in reaction to stress, increases blood pressure, blood sugar levels, and weakens the immune system. There is also an increase in IgA levels, a hormone that protects the body from infections and allergens. The production of other hormones repair nerves and relieve pain.

    As according to Jennifer, music also has the ability to facilitate the repair of verbal and memory impairments, in addition to the recovery of stroke patients by increasing blood and oxygen flow to the brain. But music’s healing powers do not stop there. Some even argue that music therapy is as powerful as drug therapy. In Barcelona, doctors compared the effects of music versus the effects of diazepam and Valium on patients awaiting surgery. There was no difference among the music therapy and drug therapy groups; The music therapy had effectively relaxed the patients’ heart rate, blood pressure, and respiratory rates as had the drug therapy.

    Reference: http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/features/tunes-to-soothe-the-healing-power-of-music-915528.html

    Comment by Julia Tsang — December 3, 2009 @ 12:53 am

  10. perhaps you could mention some beneficial songs or artists to improve psychological balance etc?
    thank you very much!

    Comment by marika — January 23, 2010 @ 1:11 pm

  11. The fact that you cited that “music increases exercise endurance by up to 15%” caught my attention. According to a study at Brunel University, http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/10/081001093753.htm, music can help exercisers to feel more positive even when they are working out at a very high intensity (close to physical exhaustion).

    A study http://news.discovery.com/human/music-dopamine-happiness-brain-110110.html conducted by David Huron, a music cognition researcher at Ohio State University shows that there is a correlation between music and dopamine release in the brain. This leads me to gather that it is the dopamine release in the brain that causes the positive effects. Dopamine’s many functions in the brain include monitoring behavior and cognition, voluntary movement, motivation, punishment and reward, sleep, mood, working memory and learning. http://www.webmd.com/brain/news/20110109/music-gives-brain-natural-buzz

    So going back to the exercise fact, could it be that music therapy could be made into more of a science with certain tunes being used for specific purposes, eg. certain types of music for studying motivation vs. running motivation vs. memory recollection.

    Comment by Lucia — May 6, 2012 @ 4:35 pm

  12. These findings pertaining to music’s healing capabilities do not come as a surprise to me. This article speaks to the individual biological and psychological effects that music can have. It made me wonder if music could have measurable healing social capacities. Knowing that music is often used in social settings to bring people together for celebratory, mournful, spiritual, and many other social reasons, I would be inclined to think that music is not only and effective tool for personal recovery but for group healing purposes as well. Could music help in situations of disagreement, bitterness, or group loss. As other people in the comments have wondered, it would be interesting to see if there are specific genres or styles of music that better facilitate social healing.

    Comment by Aileen — February 17, 2013 @ 8:21 pm

  13. I find it wonderful that something so simple as a love for music could possible fully cure damage in the brain that could otherwise lead to an unpleasant and difficult existence. Had the stroke affected the Broca’s area, a patient may never again speak or talk to their loved ones. But should they simply turn on the radio to a favorite station, their chances of recover skyrocket. I am curious as to what other types of damage could be solved or helped by music. Would a concussed patient find similar benefits form the increased flow of blood and oxygen to the brain? What about psychological disorders? My mother used to work as a music therapist in psychiatric hospitals. Could interactive music also put their minds at ease? This leads to another question. Could focused attention in a different field of entertainment also yield promising results? Perhaps those with a love for film, photography, other visual, aural, olfactory (such as cooking), or other sensory interactions would find healing powers in such simple sensory experiences. This suspicion of other pleasurable experiences made me wonder why Särkämö’s findings from the University of Helsinki (2008) showed that the group that listened to the audio books did more poorly than the control group. The article stated that the music listeners showed twice the improvement of the non-listeners, and three times the improvement of the audio book listeners. I would have expected that those listening and engaged in interesting books would have a greater benefit than those not experiencing a pleasurable situation who had no focus of attention.

    Comment by Kylee Cancio-Bello — April 1, 2013 @ 4:23 pm


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