Scientists agree: music is good for you

The impact of music on the cognitive and executive functions of our brains has been proven. — Cookie Studio / Shutterstock photo via ETX Studio

Thursday, June 16, 2022 8:46 AMJT

NEW YORK, June 16 — Did you know that music not only “calms the wild beast” but can also be a powerful tool for our health. Listening to music and playing an instrument improves not only our mental well-being, but also our cerebral plasticity and our cognitive abilities. We take a closer look.

Few people can resist the power of music. Although preferences vary, melodies and rhythms touch our hearts and brains. This is why listening to and playing music is increasingly recommended by the medical community. And it is encouraged to start listening at a very early age. Studies have shown that music acts as a neurostimulant for babies, especially preterm infants.

Swiss researchers from the University Hospitals of Geneva discovered in 2019 that music promotes the development of sensory and cognitive functions in these newborns. To come to this conclusion, the scientists commissioned composer Andreas Vollenweider to create three melodies: one to accompany the awakening of the babies, one to play as they fall asleep and one “to communicate during the awakening phases.” . They found that the neural networks of babies exposed to these melodies developed more efficiently than those of other preterm babies.

The impact of music on the cognitive and executive functions of our brains is well known, especially in children. Recent discoveries show that music can alter the brain’s biochemical processes by enhancing cerebral plasticity. This would explain why it has beneficial effects on the intellectual development of toddlers.

Research by Christina Zhao and Patricia Kuhl, two scientists at the University of Washington’s Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences, confirmed this as early as 2016. They found, backed up with medical imaging, that listening to music promotes the development of speech learning skills. affects. in babies. “We know that babies learn quickly from a wide variety of experiences and we think music can be an important experience that can influence their brain development,” Christina Zhao told CBS News at the time.

Playing music is the “brain equivalent of a full-body workout”

This beneficial effect on brain plasticity continues through childhood and adult life. And it seems that playing an instrument can help one’s intelligence quotient (IQ) develop faster. A team of researchers, led by experts from the Stanford University School of Medicine, studied the cognitive functions of 153 musicians and non-musicians. They found a significant difference in the brain structure of musicians who started playing an instrument at a young age, be it the piano, clarinet, trumpet or violin. They have stronger brain connections than those who started musical training later.

For Anita Collins, a researcher specializing in brain development and music learning, playing an instrument is the equivalent of ‘a full brain workout’. “While listening to music engages the brain in some pretty interesting activities, playing music is the brain equivalent of a full-body workout,” she explained in a 2014 TED Talk. “Playing a musical instrument involves virtually all areas of the brain at once, especially the visual, auditory and motor cortex. As with any other workout, disciplined, structured practice in playing music strengthens those brain functions, allowing us to apply that power to other activities.

One thing is certain, the more you practice an instrument, the more you benefit from these effects. But listening to music can also bring many benefits. First, it can help regulate your mood. Cognitive neuroscience claims that music provides a sense of pleasure by activating our reward circuitry. This system, set up by natural selection to regulate our desires and emotions, increases the release of dopamine, the famous “happiness hormone.” So much so that music is now used as a therapeutic tool in healthcare facilities.

The long-lasting effects of musical memory

Music therapy has also proven to be effective in treating stress and managing pain. More and more music workshops are being developed to help people suffering from Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy and even migraines. A team of French, German and American researchers conducted an experiment with 20 migraineurs. They suggested that the patients listen to 20 minutes of music twice a day for three months. The result: Their migraine attacks were drastically reduced. Half of the participants in the study even stated that they had halved.

And the therapeutic benefits of music don’t stop there. Numerous studies have shown that music stimulates almost all forms of memory, including in the elderly. Hervé Platel, professor of neuropsychology at the University of Caen, was one of the first researchers in the 1990s to observe the persistence of musical memory. He found that patients with Alzheimer’s could learn new songs within a few weeks, while their memory capacity was thought to have been lost. And this, even at an advanced stage of the disease.

But does music protect the brain from the effects of aging? Researchers remain cautious with this question. However, they all agree on one point: Listening to music, singing, or playing an instrument has multiple benefits for the general cognitive functioning of the brain, at all ages. All the more reason to take advantage of Make Music Day on June 21. — ETX Studio

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