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Music for a Better Brain

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If you don’t like the music, leave the party:  a new study has found just how much influence listening to your favorite music contributes to your brain processing and that it may preserve brain function even in cognitive decline.

                This isn’t just music that’s in the same genre as the type you like, but music that has special connections and memories.  This type of music is called “autobiographically salient” and researchers at the University of Toronto found an intriguing way that it benefits brain plasticity.

                When participants in the study listened to the songs that held special meaning to them on a daily basis, a network across many different regions of the brain became active.  Connectivity within the brain increased, along with white matter, which are two of the ways neural plasticity can be measured.

                The best results came from the participants who listened to their favorite tunes an hour daily for three weeks.  The researchers compared the MRI scans from songs which the participants didn’t know against their all-time favorites.  Listening to new music activated the brain in the auditory cortex, which was expected as it is in the listening center of the brain; but listening to their well-known favorites lit up the scans with activation in an area of executive cognitive processing in the pre-frontal cortex, as well as subcortical regions.

                These are the types of brain regions that often suffer with cognitive decline from aging or through impairment, so the researchers are applying this towards helping those who already have such degenerations in the hopes that it will preserve parts of the brain responsible for musical memories.

                For the rest of us, the answer is clear:  keep the good tunes playing.


Corinne E. Fischer, Nathan Churchill, Melissa Leggieri, Veronica Vuong, Michael Tau, Luis R. Fornazzari, Michael H. Thaut, Tom A. Schweizer. Long-Known Music Exposure Effects on Brain Imaging and Cognition in Early-Stage Cognitive Decline: A Pilot StudyJournal of AD, 2021; 84 (2): 819 DOI: 10.3233/JAD-210610


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