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A few days ago, I captured a video in which an elderly woman with advanced Alzheimer’s disease recalled a choreography she danced as a prima ballerina more than 50 years ago. The video became a sensation. How is it possible, that the brain suddenly remembered? The power of music seems to be stronger than power of degenerative disease.

Music is mighty

According to professor Sugaya from University of Central Florida it impacts brain function and human behavior, including by reducing stress, pain and symptoms of depression as well as improving cognitive and motor skills, spatial-temporal learning and neurogenesis, which is the brain’s ability to produce neurons.

The ear only has 3,500 inner hair cells, compared to the more than 100 million photoreceptors found in the eye. Yet our brains are remarkably adaptable to music.

Goosebumps from music

It surely haves happened to you that while listening to a specific song, you got goosebumps, you were dominated by strong emotions such as joy or nostalgia, you remembered a very specific event and you seemed to experience it again with all the sounds, smells and moods. The memories were extraordinarily vivid. Again, I ask, how is it possible that music has such an ability? Take us back in time and allow us to experience our experiences for the second time.
In 2014, Iowa University researchers questioned whether the memories evoked by music are more vivid than those evoked by other cues. Thus, the participants were released 30 songs from the Billboard Hot Chart 100. And they were also showed 30 familiar faces from various areas of social life.

As scientists predicted, the memories evoked by music were more vivid than those caused by faces. On the other hand, faces evoked more external memories.

„Cherchez la Brain“

Let us look at it from a scientific point of view. The main role, of course, is played by our brain and how it connects the various areas in the processing of tones, melodies, and words. And music seems to be powerful precisely because we involve all areas of the brain when listening to it. I draw the following information from neuroscientist K. Sugaya and violinist A. Yonetani from UCF.

Brain regions responsible for processing music and memories

Frontal lobe is used in thinking, decision-making and planning. “The frontal lobe is the most important to being a human. We have a big frontal lobe compared to other animals. By listening to music, we can enhance its functions,” Sugaya says.

Temporal lobe processes what we hear. “ We use the language center to appreciate music, which spans both sides of the brain, though language and words are interpreted in the left hemisphere while music and sounds are interpreted in the right hemisphere, “ Yonetani says. Scientist Peretz (2009) showed on the one hand that the right temporal lobe has an important role of creating melody representations, which support memory recognition (implicit process). On the other hand left-sided temporal lobe structures are more involved in the explicit retrieval of melodies (Samson et al. 2005).

Broca´s area enables us to produce words and express the music.

Thanks to Wernicke´s area we comprehend written and spoken language “We use this part of the brain to analyze and enjoy music, “ Yonetani.

Occipital lobe processes what we see. “Professionals use visual cortex when they listen to the music, “ Sugaya says.

Cerebellum coordinates movement and stores physical memory. “An Alzheimer’s patient, even if he doesn’t recognize his wife, could still play the piano if he learned it when he was young because playing has become a muscle memory. Those memories in the cerebellum never fade out,” Sugaya says.

Nucleus Accumbens seeks pleasure and reward and plays a big role in addiction, as it releases the neurotransmitter dopamine. “Music can be a drug — a very addictive drug because it’s also acting on the same part of the brain as illegal drugs,” Sugaya says. “Music increases dopamine in the nucleus accumbens, similar to cocaine.”

Amygdala processes and triggers emotions. “Music can control your fear, make you ready to fight and increase pleasure,” Yonetani says. “When you feel shivers go down your spine, the amygdala is activated.”

Hippocampus produces and retrieves memories, regulates emotional responses and helps us navigate. Considered the central processing unit of the brain, it’s one of the first regions of the brain to be affected by Alzheimer’s disease, leading to confusion and memory loss. “Music may increase neurogenesis in the hippocampus, allowing production of new neurons and improving memory,” Yonetani says.

Hypothalamus maintains the body’s status quo, links the endocrine and nervous systems, and produces and releases essential hormones and chemicals that regulate thirst, appetite, sleep, mood, heart rate, body temperature, metabolism, growth and sex drive — to name just a few. „If you play Mozart, for example, “heart rate and blood pressure reduce,” Sugaya says.

Corpus Callosum enables the left and right hemispheres to communicate, allowing for coordinated body movement as well as complex thoughts that require logic (left side) and intuition (right side). “As a musician, you want to have the right-hand side and the left-hand side of the brain in coordination, so they talk to each other,” Sugaya says. This allows pianists, for example, to translate notes on a sheet to the keys their fingers hit to produce music.

Putamen processes rhythm and regulates body movement and coordination. “Music can increase dopamine in this area, and music increases our response to rhythm,” Yonetani says. “By doing this, music temporarily stops the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. Rhythmic music, for example, has been used to help Parkinson’s patients function, such as getting up and down and even walking because Parkinson’s patients need assistance in moving, and music can help them kind of like a cane. Unfortunately, after the music stops, the pathology comes back.”

The responsible hub

The answer to the question from the beginning of the blog, how is it possible that the music will light up even the damaged neurons. Petr Janata, associate professor of psychology at UC Davis’ Center for Mind and Brain explored the responsible brain spot. The hub is located in the medial prefrontal cortex region — right behind the forehead — and one of the last areas of the brain to atrophy over the course of the disease. “What seems to happen is that a piece of familiar music serves as a soundtrack for a mental movie that starts playing in our head. It calls back memories of a particular person or place, and you might all of a sudden see that person’s face in your mind’s eye”.

What is the song bringing up your personal memories? Let me know 🙂

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2 postrehy na "Music evokes vivid memories"

  1. Avatar Anonym píše:

    Strangers in the night by Frank Sinatra 😉

    1. Avatar Radka píše:

      What a nice song. Romantic one😉

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