music and brainpower

music and brainpower

I’ve just come across the following news item in today’s edition of my local newspaper, the Bristol Evening Post:

"Playing an instrument can go straight to a musician’s head, scientists from Liverpool University revealed today.
"A study has shown that practice and performance prevents a vital part of the brain shrinking with age. Musicians in a major British orchestra were found to have an average of 15% more grey matter in the brain region than non-musicians.
"Scientists cannot say whether this means playing music might protect a person from age-related diseases such as Alzheimer’s.""

Danny, as our resident expert on things to do with the workings of the brain, what say ye?

Trevor

Re: music and brainpower

zzzzz…Snore….zzz..Wha?!? Huhh?

Emm ..ahhh… emm..well, you see…

Ok, let’s get real. They didn’t say which part of the brain did they? Or is this a neuroanatomy test? I’ve probably mentioned before, there’s a wee lump on the side of the brain, sticking out from the temporal lobe, called the Superior Temporal Gyrus, AKA, Heschl’s Gyrus. Not so much a lump as a diagonal "hillock", band, kinda thing. It takes a lot to do with processing auditory signals, including music.

Could be the Hippocampus, though, which I’ve also droned on about at length in the past, as it’s a pretty vital part of the brain. It has grey matter regions, but is not cortical grey matter.

I assume also they didn’t mention how they carried out the experiments. Did they use fMRI? Was it a stereological study on post-mortem tissue? Sounds like that’s what it was, cuz they’re going on about prevention of shrinkage with age.

All I can comment on really, is, that although the actual numbers of neurons will not increase (called hypertrophy), their branches to other neurons will. So that, in effect, might increase the thickness of the grey matter layer, which is composed of glial cells and neurons in a proportion of about G:N= 2.5:1(as opposed to white matter, where the proportion is more like 10:1).

So, if yer into music, listening to it and thinking about it and playing a it lot, yer gonna stimulate neurons in the Music Department of the brain. They’ll be talking to other lads of their ilk more frequently, thus sending out more connections (dendrites) to these fellas, and they’ll form more points of contact (synapses). They’ll also need more little servant/helper cells (glia) to carry out this function successfully. All this rigmarole takes up space, so the grey matter will increase in volume, but not in neuronal number. In fact, because of all these new roads being built, it’s likely that neuronal density will decrease!

Did the article mention who carried out the study, also where it was published?.. because we might be able to source it and have a decent look at it.

Apart from these few half-baked notions, there’s not much else I can contribute. Hope it helps, though.

Danny.

Re: music and brainpower

You’ll probably think me guilty of generalizing but I would imagine that orchestral musicians would be among the more intelligent members of society in the first place. Perhaps the study would be more accurate if it were carried out on individuals from all musical backgrounds. Actually, I would argue that all musicians are probably more creative and intelligent than average. It’s just that many of us haven’t had the same education and opportunities.

John

Re: music and brainpower

John - thanks for that point - I meant to put in something like that(Honest!), but forgot. Maybe the sample is already biased by them already having inherited a genetic predisposition for an enlarged Heschl’s Gyrus. And what was the control group against which the musical cohort was compared? Also what was the sample size of each cohort?

Hmm. I’m curious now. Can you furnish us with any more detail Trev?

Trevor?

….Danny.

Re: music and brainpower

Danny, all I know at present is the news clip from the Bristol Evening Post of 12-9-03. I did a quick search in google and the BBC website - zilch. I would expect something more detailed to surface in the next few days.
Trevor

Re: music and brainpower

Danny - If they’re taking post mortem tissue from the members of only one orchestra, as treabhar quoted, then the sample size was presumably (hopefully) vanishingly small!

But it’s far better to try to get hold of the original article; it seems to me that these reports, "written by our science editor" or not, are often written by people who have not much idea what they’re talking about specifically for people they assume will have NO idea. News as entertainment, rather than food for thought.

"in the brain region", indeed! That could mean anything from "in a specific (so why not name it?) region of the brain" through "in the brain" to "in the general vicinity of the brain" (which would be where the post mortem would come in!)

Plato apparently said, "Music is a more potent instrument than any other for education." And on occasion, we’ve got round to doing the experiments. There was a German study which discovered 25% enlargement in the brain region (name?) which is used to analyse pitch, in children who studied music. Studies have shown that training children in music performance improves language skills, and test scores in maths and reading.

Rauscher and Shaw’s studies are often quoted: children receiving piano training tested 34% higher in spacial-temporal ability (doesn’t say how they measured it) than others receiving computer instruction (in solving geometric and maths puzzles) or none at all. They concluded that music uniquely enhances higher brain functions required for mathematics, chess, science and engineering. Rauscher: "It has been clearly documented that young students have difficulty understanding the concepts of proportion (heavily used in math and science) and that no successful program has been developed to teach these concepts in the school system." Shaw: "The high proportion of children who evidenced dramatic improvement in spatial-temporal reasoning as a result of music training should be of great interest to scientists and educators." They did similar experiments on pre-schoolers.

They proposed a causal relationship between early music training and the development of the neural circuitry that governs spatial intelligence: that music training generates the neural connections used for abstract reasoning, including those necessary for understanding mathematical concepts.

Early experiences determine which brain cells (neurons) will connect with other brain cells, and which ones will die away. And how much of any number of neurotransmitters are produced, and how efficiently they’re recognised. Because neural connections are responsible for all types of intelligence, a child’s brain develops to its full potential only with exposure to the necessary enriching experiences in early childhood. Music is evidently one of them. As are loving relationships, proper nourishment ….. (big list). Like John J said, opportunities; people who’ve received a musical education are a select bunch (sad but true).

Music can apparently affect neural activity in primitive regions in all animals, though, as well as more recently evolved regions thought to be distinctively human …. "Planet of the Apes", anybody?

Evolution

If and when some more conclusive studies are done, the next question is "What is the evolutionary advantage (or as Jonathan Miller calls it, the ‘biological payoff’) to being able to process music?" That is, if the phenomena are for real, members of our species who carried this tendency survived, while those who did not carry this tendency died out. Why?

—-Michael B.

Re: music and brainpower

Michael B - So there’s a scientific basis to the theory that being able to play an instrument makes you more attractive to the opposite sex!

But, I hear any number of you ask, how did the bodhran hitters survive?

Is there an equal-and-opposite evolutionary disadvantage in allowing the laundry to pile up?

Re: music and brainpower

Oops! Sorry, I never read Trevor’s 1st post properly. Couldn’t possibly be a post mortem study, of course. But they did use a type of stereological analysis, called the Cavalieri method.That’s the grid thing the superimpose on the fMRI slices.

Broca’s area….isn’t that in the frontal lobe, at the back, and quite close to the STG. It’s something to do with the control of the expressive aspects of speech, not music at all! Maybe it controls yer musical expression also.

Danny.

Re: music and brainpower

>But, I hear any number of you ask, how did the bodhran hitters survive?

Q. What do bodhran players use for birth control?

A. Their personalities.

—-Michael B.

Re: music and brainpower

Professor Samuel Salmon from the University of Winnebago has the following to say regarding the human brain of a musician :

Re: music and brainpower

Jim, I think your post effectively draws a line under this discussion ๐Ÿ™‚
Trevor

Re: music and brainpower

No -it doesn’t draw a line under this discussion -I want to know if this diddley part of the music stimulates Michael "Gill":0!!!
Alan

Re: music and brainpower

Just a few words of explanation re my previous post - aside from the obvious intended humour (!), when I read the words "scientists have discovered that…" in a newspaper, I am immediately sceptical, simply because a few months down the line the same newspaper will usually publish a report which completely contradicts the findings of the first report (which is usually written by the same

Re: music and brainpower

Jim,
>a few months down the line the same newspaper will usually publish a report which completely contradicts the findings of the first report<

…So, what you sayi’n geezer? You callin’ me fick, then?

Re: music and brainpower

Danny - "scientists have posulated that" music training improves language development; if correct, then colocation is perfectly possible. (Or: if colocated, some link is entirely possible #?!)

jim dorans - when I see the words "scientists have shown that…" I feel slightly nauseous, as a matter of fact, and I’m struggling to be able to say exactly why; I suppose I feel like I’m being consigned to some box or other, labelled "Not Like Us - Treat With Suspicion". Because I think most people would be inclined to direct their scepticism towards the scientists themselves, unfortunately. Although I’d be the last one to argue that we’re never wrong, or that the odd one of us doesn’t turn out to be a right old charlaton. I can think of a couple ….

Re: music and brainpower

Well, I would think that Broca’s area makes a perfect connotation with musicality since it’s instrumental in fine motor control, coordination, speech and several other associated skills required for being a good musician.

That article was really neat, though…I’ll be taking that into Nursing lecture first thing this week ๐Ÿ™‚ Thanks for the info, Danny and Trevor.

Lyd

Re: music and brainpower

…no, really, don’t mention it ….

Re: music and brainpower

Jim, you just bought to mind a great quote that I read this week, from the 19th Century biologist Karl Ernst von Baer (himself quoting Louis Agassiz):
"when a new doctrine is presented, it must go through three stages. First, people say that it isn’t true, then that it is against religion, and, in the third stage, that it has long been known." You could substitute ‘religion’ for ‘current orthodoxy’, to update it…

However, that doesn’t tally with the tabloid sector, where all manner of stupid things are reported as though true (‘Scientists prove that humans are descended from TADPOLES!!’) and there’s no attempt to make any kind of sense at all…
Nasty - what it is it that you study, again?

Posted by .

Re: music and brainpower

Study? Ummm ….

I don’t. And I’ve not even been reading, recently. Which is funny, because I live in a library! (no, really) I take a yearly holiday from reading holiday, and this year’s has dragged on, somewhat. I’ve got out more, though. My degree was Medical Cell Biology and Biochemistry. Once upon a time, my brain was a thing of beauty ……

I have a newspaper article hanging off my fridge entitled "How To Avoid Being Abducted By An Alien" by way of a gentle dig at a friend of mine who genuinely believes in aliens. And he doesn’t even have the excuse that he’s stupid.

SHR: new acronym, just invented by me, for Should Have Read …

So: SHR ….a yearly holiday from reading, and ….

Re: music and brainpower

I didn’t mean, what are you studying, as in Being a Student. I meant, what are you studying, as in, Being a Scientist… ๐Ÿ™‚

(And so, presumably, being engaged in studying something.)

Does the article have instructions on how to build an anti-alien-abduction hat? Like this? http://www.stopabductions.com

Posted by .

Re: music and brainpower

Nope. Not studying. Just a lab monkey, really, which is fine by me. If you want to know our Areas Of Interest, I’ll cram and you can test me when you pitch up at the Blythe Hill!

I’ll have to read the article again; I remember it suggested you use "righteous anger" to repel the wee beasties …. did I bore anybody other than Aidan yet with my theory about why people always imagine aliens have big oval eyes? Because the Viking helmets had holes that shape cut into them, and Vikings got just about everywhere, so it’s a cultural memory thingy, like imagining a long dark tunnel with a light at the end of it when you die. And how about Susan Greenfield "conjuring up an alien" by reproducing in a lab the electrical conditions similar to those immediately before an earthquake?

Love the article! If I had one of those hats would I too be able to boast that "I have achieved meaningful work and am contributing to society"? Disappointing news here, though: "Results of the thought screen helmet exceeded expectations. Since January 2000 aliens have not taken any abductees while they were wearing thought screen helmets using Velostat shielding." Could somebody please invent a helmet which guaranteed the disappearance of all soi-disant "abductees"? My favourite testimonial: "

Re: music and brainpower

Oh cool, I didn’t hear about the Susan Greenfield thing. Is it at all related to the electro-magnetic fields affecting the temporal lobes thing, and making people feel ‘a presence’?

Funky wee hats, though, aren’t they? Most chic. I wear mine every day.

Posted by .

Aliens

That’s the one … and of course she saw the same pointy-chin oval-eyed face as everybody else. I saw some very disgruntled "believers" posting on the web after that. Nowt as queer as folk, and the stuff they’ll believe. I’m scared to look/listen, sometimes, really I am.