An article was posted last week in U.S. News and World Report. It summarized a study performed in London where a group of researchers studied how music can help visual neglect. (Visual neglect occurs when a person has had damage to one side of their brain, as with a stroke, and cannot attend to or be aware of one side of their visual field. For more information, go here. I know it’s Wikipedia, but this is not a research paper and they provide a good overview:-)
So these researchers had three people suffering from neglect perform visual tasks in three different conditions: 1) while listening to music they preferred, 2) while listening to music they did not like, and 3) while sitting in silence. They found that while listening to music they liked, the participants performed better on the visual tasks. This did not happen in the other two conditions.
To the researchers, this suggested that the music they liked stimulated the emotional areas in our brain, which then helped the brain process other information (e.g. the visual information) more efficiently.
I’m still trying to wrap my brain around this one. This is an intriguing study, but I’m not convinced about their conclusion. Yes, music taps into our emotions, we all know that. But the idea that simply being happier would help your brain process visual information? I don’t know…
I DO know that listening to music stimulates the areas in our brain responsible for arousal and attention. Have you ever sung to a baby? They will turn their head to find you and watch you as you sing (arousal and attention in action!). I also know that music stimulates both sides, or hemispheres, of our brain. Maybe the music was acting like a primer to the damaged part of the brain, making it easier for it to work and process information. Of course, how would you then account for the fact that the participants only performed better listening to music they liked?
Another thought – the article also says that “this may improve the patient’s awareness by giving the brain more resources to process stimuli.” This may be silly, but could it be like smiling and frowning? You have probably heard that it takes more muscles to frown than it does to smile. Well, maybe it takes fewer brain resources to feel a happy emotional state than it does to feel a neutral or negative emotional state. Maybe being in a happy emotional state makes it easier for your brain to work on other tasks?
Like I said, I am still trying to wrap my brain around this one. What are your thoughts? Please share them!
P.S. If you would like to download a pdf of this article, click here.