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How Music affects the brain – Finnish research shows a ground breaking finding

Wednesday, 07 December 2011
Finnish researchers have developed a groundbreaking new method that allows scientists to study how the brain processes different aspects of music.

The study is pioneering in that, for the first time, it reveals how wide networks in the brain, including areas responsible for motor actions, emotions, and creativity, are activated during music listening.

The new method provides insights into the complex dynamics of brain networks and the way music affects us.

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), the research team, led by Dr. Vinoo Alluri from the University of Jyv�skyl�, recorded the brain responses of individuals who were listening to a piece of modern Argentinean tango. Then, using sophisticated computer algorithms, the scientists analysed the musical content of the tango, showing how it’s rhythmic, tonal and timbral components evolve over time.

This was the first time such a study has been carried out using real music instead of artificially constructed music-like sound stimuli. Comparison of the brain responses and the musical features revealed several interesting features.

Movement and emotions
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.
"Our results show for the first time how different musical features activate emotional, motor and creative areas of the brain", says Prof. Petri Toiviainen from the University of Jyv�skyl�. "We believe that our method provides more reliable knowledge about music processing in the brain than the more conventional methods."

The study has been published in the journal NeuroImage.
News source: Yle

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