A recent research article analyzed the brain networks of people listening to different music genres. The results these researchers collected suggest that the type of music listened to does not determine the specific brain network pattern; instead, it is dictated by an individuals’ enjoyment of the song. Thus, the network connectivity of a person listening to Eminem and another person listening to Beethoven could be the same because of their individual musical preference and enjoyment of the song.
Listening to music impacts the brain network in different ways depending on whether the music being listened to is enjoyed or not. In the study being discussed here, the investigators studied how the regions of the brain responsible for introspection, emotion, and memory are influenced by the type of music listened to. The researchers studied the effect on these brain regions when a participant listened to music he/she liked, disliked, or their favorite song. It was seen that participants that liked different genres of music in the presence or absence of lyrics could be seen having the same brain activity.
For the study, 21 participants shared their personal favorite song, which differed between all of them. Along with this favorite song, the participants listened to five iconic musical selections. Data was collected by:
- Scanning the participants’ brains with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) while they listened to the whole song.
- Having the participants rate the musical selections on a scale-based measuring system.
The data collected were categorized into the following three groups:
- Disliked song
- Liked song
- Favorite song
The results of data analyses showed that:
- Regardless of musical preference, there was more brain connectivity in the precuneus, the brain region responsible for self-reflection and other functions (The precuneus forms the core of the Default Mode Network).
- However, how the precuneus interacted with other brain regions differed depending on the group. More brain connections were made in the “liked song” and “favorite song” groups versus the “disliked song” group.
The brain network is highly plastic and can be altered spontaneously by different stimuli such as music. The results of this study show that the type of music, in the presence or absence of lyrics, did not dictate the network connectivity of the brain. Instead, it was the participants' musical preference. Thus, the network connectivity of a person listening to Eminem and another person listening to Beethoven may be the same.
The researchers believe that this connectivity suggests the involvement of other neural processes in additional areas of cognition, like self-referential or "mind-wandering" experiences reported by people that listen to music they prefer. The results seen in the default mode network suggests that listening to liked music leads to introspection.
The default mode network or DMN is a network in brain regions that are usually more active at rest, than when actively engaged in something. It is now being suggested that problems in the DMN may cause neurological problems such as autism, mild cognitive impairment, post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia, depression, etc., as well as in neurological abilities (divergent thinking and creativity). The findings from this study suggest that listening to preferred music could improve cognitive abilities. Thus, listening to one’s preferred music could be implemented for neurologic therapy to improve "executive function and emotional adjustments," thereby decreasing anxiety and depression. The results also suggest that an individual with a brain injury might experience better improvement if they listen to preferred music instead of disliked music.
Music driven neurorehabilitation may be improved when patients listen to their preferred music so to better engage the DMN "thus affect the complex sensory-motor rhythmic integration." Observing the connectivity within the DMN has the potential of being used as a diagnostic tool for autism where a person's empathy is often compromised. Based off of this research, there is some potential in influencing the "functional brain connectivity" within the DMN when one listens to preferred music.
Written by Monique Richards
Wilkins, R., Hodges, D., Laurienti, P., Steen, M., & Burdette, J. (2014). Network Science and the Effects of Music Preference on Functional Brain Connectivity: From Beethoven to Eminem. Nature Scientific Reports. doi:10.1038/srep06130
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