How does music impact on brain? - Seeker's Thoughts

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How does music impact on brain?

Although music can certainly be played and listened to alone, in the shower or on your iPod, it is also a powerful social magnet and even improve your cognitive abilities. 

“Without music, life would be a mistake” – Friedrich Nietzsche

 After all, a music concert is one of the few times when we will gather together with thousands of other people to engage in a shared activity. 

There is something about listening to music, or playing it with other people, that brings its own social buzz, making you feel connected to those around you.

Recent analyses found that listening to music improves cognitive abilities. However, the mechanism in the brain that is responsible for the improvement has not been well investigated. 

Researchers from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Kanpur have recorded, studied and converted different mechanisms and alterations in the neural networks that lead to enhanced cognitive effects by using electroencephalography (EEG) studies. The study was conducted on a small sample size of 20 male students from the institute.

We know that music is pleasurable, and it seems to play a role in our well-being. But many researchers also believe that music plays a significant role in strengthening social bonds.

What is Cognitive Abilities?
Cognitive development means how children think, explore and figure things out. It is the development of knowledge, skills, problem solving and dispositions, which help children to think about and understand the world around them. Brain development is part of cognitive development.

Children grow and develop rapidly in their first five years across the four main areas of development. These areas are motor (physical), language and communication, cognitive and social/emotional.

For adults, Cognitive abilities are brain-based skills we need to carry out any task from the simplest to the most complex. They have more to do with the mechanisms of how we learn, remember, problem-solve, and pay attention, rather than with any actual knowledge

What is EEG?

Electroencephalography (EEG) is a technique for recording and interpreting the electrical activity of the brain. The nerve cells of the brain generate electrical impulses that fluctuate rhythmically in distinct patterns. 

In 1929 German scientist Hans Berger published the result of the first study to employ an electroencephalograph, an instrument that measures and records these brainwave patterns. The recording produced by such an instrument is called an electroencephalogram, commonly abbreviated EEG.

Therefore, Electroencephalography provides a medium for studying how the brain works and traces connections between one part of the central nervous system and another. 

The Constrain - Limited Number of people in the experiment 

However, its effectiveness as researcher tool is limited, because it records only a small sample of electrical activity from the surface of the brain. 

Many of the more complex functions of the brain, such as those that underline emotions and thought, cannot be related closely to EEG patterns.

Electroencephalography has proved more useful as a diagnostic aid in cases of serious head injuries, brain tumors, cerebral infections, sleep disorders, epilepsy, and various degenerative diseases of the nervous system. Electroencephalography is also useful in the assessment of patients with suspected brain death.

How analysis has been done?

Special analyses – phase and power analyses—were carried out to understand the dynamics of neuronal networks and the underlying mechanisms behind them. They found increased power in the Occipital while music was played. Occipital, pertaining to the back of the head. The prefrontal cortex and Occipital are regions responsible for attention and decision making. An increase in their power shows an increase in efficiency in decision making. 

Spatial Mapping - Reducing irrelevant Connections Diminished 

Spatial mapping showed that simultaneously there was also reduced information flow predominantly between the frontal and parietal cortex. A total of about 170 connections interlinking the frontal regions with the center, parietal and temporal regions as well as the central regions with the parietal regions were found to have diminished communication.

This reduced information flow signifies shutting off of irrelevant connections and depicts an efficient brain. This is linked with high IQ.

 Music is able to inhibit the distractive networks and excite only the ones responsible for cognition. Thus it saves energy for focused and efficient functioning. In other words, some specific music might have intrinsic property, almost like a password, to cause a higher quality of neuronal synchronic firing in brain cells, leading to enhanced cognitive ability.

Researchers Concluded

Music might cause short-term enhancement of cognitive functions via a three-channel framework—purging off irrelevant networks (neural noises), increasing neural efficiency in the frontal lobe and enhancing attention by increasing the power in the occipital lobe.

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