Our Musical Brains

Published: Jan 23, 2017  |   Category: motivation, learning, practicing

We humans love our music. Americans on average listen to four hours of music per day. Around the globe, people consistently rank music as one of life’s top pleasures and sources of emotional support. Yet, surprisingly, neuroscientists understand relatively little about how our brain processes and produces music. Or why we love it so much. A new study out of MIT, just published in the journal Neuron, offers some promising clues. The MIT team has concluded that the human brain’s auditory cortex—where all sound is interpreted—has distinct centers for processing music and speech. Put differently, the brain has developed an independent function just for music. Some scientists now believe that our capacity for music may pre-date our capacity for speech; and the latter may have even evolved from the former. Whoa! Another new study, from the University of Montreal, has found people who play music have much faster reaction times to a broad range of sensory stimuli. The researchers think that, somehow, a musician’s brain develops a heightened ability to anticipate or even predict stimuli. Or, it could be that musicians have learned how to focus intensely, which brings with it physiological changes such as a higher heart rate, increased blood flow, deeper breathing, and more responsive muscles. It appears brain science is finally catching up to what teenagers have known for centuries: music is cool, and musicians are even cooler.

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