BioTrends 2011: This Is Your Brain on ... Music.

October 7 2010
Updated October 20 2010

Go ahead, sing or whistle. Even if it's off-key. Read on to learn why.

This is the first exploration on our list of 27 trends we see (or hope to see) for the coming year. It's under the general category "The Human Condition" (see our Introduction for background). Music may not have the most impact, but a conversation I had with a new friend last week made it top of mind.

[SIDE NOTE: This article's title is actually the title of a fascinating book I read a couple of years ago by Daniel J. Levitin, "This is Your Brain on Music; The Science of a Human Obsession." With 147 customer reviews, the book apparently struck a chord (sorry, I couldn't resist). You'll find reference links at the end of this article.]

As we were walking to a place for lunch, my new friend mentioned (I forget how the subject came up) that she played the viola. Ah, instant rapport as we discussed the joys of producing and listening to classic music.

And it's more than joy that music evokes. You've heard the phrase "Music hath charms to soothe a savage breast" (often misquoted as "beast").

Scientists are probing what happens to our brain on music (listening, playing or singing). The Financial Times published an article reviewing "The Music Instinct" by Philip Ball. Both Ball and Levin (mentioned above) discuss the neuroscience of music, namely that music activates "intensely pleasant emotional responses" in our brain.

Pretty powerful, particularly in this culture of "always on" connectivity and the rise in dementia due to the growth in our aging population -- subjects of future trends I see for 2011. By the way, you should check out the American Music Therapy Association (link below), celebrating 60 years of music therapy in 2010.

Given nearly the entire whole world's less-than-robust economy, the neat thing about allowing music to improve your well-being is that you don't have to play an instrument, attend expensive concerts or even spend 99 cents on an itunes song (player not included). Levitin and Ball agree with neuroscientists that music is innate. So, as I suggested at the beginning: go ahead, sing or whistle -- even if it's off-key.

A note about the book links below. You help keep our content freely available when you purchase a book or product from Amazon after clicking directly on the links we provide. It doesn't cost you a cent more and we receive a small portion of the purchase price. If you click on other Amazon pages to read reviews and then decide to purchase, please come back and use the link provided. Thank you for your support!
[NOTE: On April 15 2011 Amazon terminated their affiliate program in Illinois, one of a number of states (including California) that passed legislation requiring the collection of taxes from consumers, even if those retailers have no physical presence in the state - please see our blog post Amazon Associates Program Dropped in Illinois and Illinois Governer Quinn's response.]

"This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession" by Daniel J. Levitin (2007)
"The Music Instinct: How Music Works and Why We Can't Do Without It" by Philip Ball (2010)
"Music, Language, and the Brain" by Aniruddah D. Patel (2010)
American Music Therapy Association

Financial Times article "Notes on the Brain"

Categories: BioTrends 2011; Words to the Wise
Filed under:
Psychology/Behavior, Aging