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Examining how the brain processes music

Research published earlier this year showed that listening to music releases the neurotransmitter dopamine in the brain and sends pleasure signals to the rest of the body. Now findings recently published in NeuroImage offer additional insights into how music affects our neural circuits.

In the study (subscription required), Finnish researchers recorded the brain responses of individuals who were listening to a piece of modern Argentinian tango using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) technology. Afterwards, they used computer algorithms to analyze the musical content of the tango and illustrate how its rhythmic, tonal and timbral components evolved over time. They then compared the brain responses and the musical features. Medical News Today reports:

The researchers found that music listening recruits not only the auditory areas of the brain, but also employs large-scale neural networks. For instance, they discovered that the processing of musical pulse recruits motor areas in the brain, supporting the idea that music and movement are closely intertwined. Limbic areas of the brain, known to be associated with emotions, were found to be involved in rhythm and tonality processing. Processing of timbre was associated with activations in the so-called default mode network, which is assumed to be associated with mind-wandering and creativity.

Similarly, a past Stanford study showed music engages the areas of the brain involved with paying attention, making predictions and updating the event in memory. The findings also suggest that music can help the brain organize incoming information.

Previously: Hospital music program helps soothe patients' "heavy hearts", Music lessons may boost children's brain power and Can music benefit cancer patients?
Photo by Lidyanne Aquino

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