Music And The Mind

While interest in the correlation between music and the human mind dates back to Plato’s days, the study of music and its link to neuroscience is a much younger discipline.  Scientists today agree that music has the potential capacity to illuminate some of the most fundamental aspects of the way our brains function.  It can affect language, the nature of active perception, and the mind’s ability to process complex sequences that unfold with the passage of time.  What new and exciting discoveries are currently being made by neuroscientists studying music and the mind?  Let’s take a look.

Music and Language: An Intriguing Relationship
While both spoken languages and music feature melodic structure, they are also rhythmic in nature.  Researchers have shown that both music and language may employ tones or words in common, along with other basic elements which can be combined to create hierarchically organized and unique sequences.  Both music and language are syntactic systems.
Given the similarities between spoken language and music, scientists have addressed the question of whether the two are independent brain functions or if they have a significant amount of overlap with one another.  They have studied the syntactic processing that takes place in both language and music, the relationship of music to both the rhythms and melodies associated with speech, and the interrelatedness of speech intonation perception and musical tone deafness. These studies revealed that there is indeed a significant amount of overlap between language processing and music.  Already, music therapists are helping patients recovering speech after brain trauma; the case of U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot by an attacker in 2011 is one success story that illustrates the importance of understanding the correlation between music and the mind.
Musical Rhythm and How Perception is Constructed
Perception is more than just our brains’ way of telling us what is happening around us; it is actually a constructive process that involves active interpretation, along with integration across the brain’s systems.  Music’s beats illustrate this fact well:  consider for a moment the fact that all human cultures have a type of music in which regular beats can be perceived by listeners; in each of these cultures, people dance, or move in synch with the music’s beats.  Interestingly, humanity is the only species which spontaneously moves in synchrony with musical beats; in addition, we are capable of extracting beats from rhythmic patterns, no matter how complex.  This coupling between the motor and auditory systems is helping researchers make strides toward treating motor disorders.  For example, when people suffering from Parkinson’s disease are exposed to rhythmic music, initiating and coordinating movements often becomes easier for them.
Brain Activity and Auditory Perception
New methods for tracking brain activity relative to musical stimuli shows patterns that correlate strongly to organized responses in which the brain processes auditory information and even organizes that information in a way that has an effect on cognitive processing.  Study results show that ongoing activity patterns can be influenced by a certain tune’s melodic structure.  Whenever an auditory stimulus is focused on, any activity happening in the brain’s most distant regions suddenly becomes temporally correlated to a high degree.  While visual attention has been shown to strongly modulate the amount of brain activity associated with a certain stimulus, auditory attention synchronizes the timing as well as the amount of activity.  Neuroscientists currently hypothesize that since it appears that the visual and auditory  systems utilize mechanisms selectively when focusing attention, music therapy could lend itself wonderfully to the treatment of certain attention disorders.
Whether treating a brain injury that results in the loss of speech, aiding in assisting people to attain greater mobility, or helping train the brain to focus better, music is proving to be an incredible ally to medical professionals looking for new ways to improve neural function.
Debbie Phillips enjoys writing about the diverse collection articles on humanities, culture, movies and more at You can enjoy Hamlet Character Analysis, a Great Gatsby Summary and more.