How does brain process sounds?- therapeutic role of music

Research conducted by American scientists contributed to the discovery of how does human brain process sounds. This knowledge may be practically applied in music therapy – dynamically developing treatment method used in increasingly broader group of diseases.

Beneficial influence of music on human was noticed in ancient times. Search for connection between music, physiological and psychological reaction of organism begun at the end of 18th century. Then the scientists started to investigate significance of music in medical branches for the first time.

During the WWI music was used as an element of occupational therapy. Musicians who were singing with patients and taught them to play instruments were hired in military hospitals. Singing exercised lungs and larynx. In turn, playing instruments was to strengthen muscles, improve joint movement and coordination. It was noticed that patients of occupational therapy recovered faster. What is more, the use of phonograph during the surgery helped the patients to relax thus the dose of anesthetics was lower. During the Second World War music was officially recognized as therapeutic agent.

Currently, music therapy is used in many afflictions, for example, in psychiatric treatment, in patients with heart diseases, in palliative care, rehabilitation, relaxation, in blind or partially blind children, and in neonatology. Research conducted in recent years showed that it beneficially influences elderly people suffering from neurodegenerative diseases.

Classes with patients are conducted individually or in a group by appropriately qualified person. They consist of shared singing, listening to music, playing simple percussion instruments, clapping to the rhythm or tapping it out. The basic aim of music therapy is to relieve internal emotional tension in the patients, to improve focus and develop interpersonal relations. Apart from psychological influence, numerous physiological changes occurring in organism due to music were indicated. Among them are reduction of cortisol level, which is a stress hormone, decreased heart rate and improvement of quality of sleep.

Doctor Charles Limb from National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders in Bethesda conducted a research devoted to processing of sound by a human brain. With the use of MRI he discovered which areas of the brain are stimulated during playing on musical instrument and during singing. It turned out that speech centers which are located in inferior frontal gyrus and back superior temporal gyrus are activated. In turn, associations, which are individual for every person, emerge while listening to music. They are accompanied by increased activity in areas of visual and motor coordination.

Doctor Istvan Molnar-Szakacs from University of California in Los Angeles and his team aimed their research at the so called Mirror Neuron System (MNS) which is responsible for phenomenon of empathy in people. Its dysfunction is described, for example, in people with autistic disorders what is a reason for difficulties with appropriate interpretation of emotional conditions in other people. Music therapy used in those patients beneficially influences social contacts what proves that defective MNS may be effectively stimulated with the use of music.

In turn, doctor Claudia Jacova with associates from University of British Columbia in Vancouver with the use of functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) has shown that consolidation of memory connected with music occurs in several different areas of the brain. That is why this memory is more permanent than memory dependent on other stimulus.

Conducted research prove that therapeutic influence of music on human organism stems from special neural activity in the brain caused by music. Due to this fact music therapy may be used in alleviation of psychological and behavioral disorders which especially appear in neurodegenerative diseases in people at elderly age.

Authors: Karolina Gasińska, Anna Szajerska

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