The Cognitive Neuroscience of Music

Music sets the ambiance to movies, lifts our spirits, urges us to dance, sing, and cry. The first instruments ever created date back as early as 4000 BCE when the Egyptians built functioning harps and flutes. Even more shockingly, the most listened song on Spotify, Shape of You by Ed Sheeran, has almost 2 BILLION listens. So, why do we love music SO much? Can music be a form of therapy? Do other animals, such as dogs and cats, enjoy music too? Today on the Neuro Bureau, the cognitive neuroscience of music.

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Why do we love music SO much?

According to recent brain scans, the brain is stimulated by music! Why? Well, when the song begins to play, our brains fire neurons in perfect synchrony with the beat of the tune. That is why calm music relaxes you and feel good songs uplift you.

The ability to synchronize brain frequencies with the rhythm of an outside stimulus is referred to as “brainwave entrainment” in the scientific community.

A study published in Nature Scientific Reports in 2014 showed that our brains respond differently to different songs depending on our musical preferences. Using fMRI, the researchers tracked the blood flow of 21 participants while to music. The genres ranged from classical to country to rock to opera. Additionally, the researchers played the individuals favorite song. Not surprisingly, the listeners’ favorite music had the greatest impact on blood flow and brain connectivity in the brain. In particular, the preferred song impacted the brain centers involved with thought, empathy, and self-awareness. No wonder we enjoy music that somehow relates to what is occurring in our lives. Feeling sad? Maybe acoustic music sounds better. Feeling excited? Maybe rock works better at the moment.

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Can music be a form of therapy?

In European countries,  such as the United Kingdom, music therapy is an integral part of treatment for brain injuries and neurological disorders. For example, music has been shown to help individuals with Parkinson’s disease. Parksons impacts the ability to move and impairs motor functioning. Humans respond subconsciously to rhythm making it easier for individuals with Parkinson’s to synchronize and move to a beat. The therapy first targets slow movement with low tempo songs and then gradually speeds up the music and walking pace. This way individuals can learn to move their bodies at an appropriate speed with music guiding the temp.

The same philosophy is applicable to autism spectrum disorder. While autism does not technically impact movement, it can lead to difficulty in motor planning, posture, and coordination. Similar to Parkinson’s Disease, dancing can help with motor skills such as coordination. Interestingly, individuals with autism show a heightened response to music. Therefore, music can facilitate the learning of nonverbal communication through when the lyrics are sung, and what they say.

Lastly, music lifts our moods! More research is needed on exactly why music makes us feel happy, however one study found that listening to music raised dopamine levels by nine percent!

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Do other animals, such as dogs and cats, enjoy music too?

Animals love music! Interestingly, animals do not just prefer the music that their owners play, they actually have unique preferences! Learn more by clicking here to preview the Neuro Bureau article about how animals interpret music. #MusicWeek

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