Stanford’s med school has just released its findings about music and the brain–namely, that music increases receptivity and retention. Using the symphonies of 18th-century English composer William Boyce, the researchers studied brainwaves of 18 listeners through functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI):
“In a concert setting, for example, different individuals listen to a piece of music with wandering attention, but at the transition point between movements, their attention is arrested,” said the paper’s senior author Vinod Menon, PhD, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and of neurosciences.
“I’m not sure if the baroque composers would have thought of it in this way, but certainly from a modern neuroscience perspective, our study shows that this is a moment when individual brains respond in a tightly synchronized manner,” Menon said.
The team used music to help study the brain’s attempt to make sense of the continual flow of information the real world generates, a process called event segmentation. The brain partitions information into meaningful chunks by extracting information about beginnings, endings and the boundaries between events.
[. . .] No previous study, to the researchers’ knowledge, has directly addressed the question of event segmentation in the act of hearing and, specifically, in music. [. . .]
In the analysis of the participants’ brain scans, the researchers focused on a 10-second window before and after the transition between movements. They identified two distinct neural networks involved in processing the movement transition, located in two separate areas of the brain. They found what they called a “striking” difference between activity levels in the right and left sides of the brain during the entire transition, with the right side significantly more active.
Even better, you can see the activity for yourself, in the 20-second fMRI clip accompanying the piece. The study’s implications for neuroscience and the humanities alike is pretty significant, but it also got me thinking something a lot more frivolous: what would those brainwaves look like set to other kinds of music? Imagine the YouTube possibilities.
Music moves brain to pay attention, Stanford study finds [Stanford School of Medicine]