Friday, October 31, 2008

Article 3-Music-educed mood, Article 4-Intensely pleasure response..

University of Toronto
Course: MUS 2122H: Music and the Brain - Fall 2008
Instructor: Dr. Lee Bartel
Student: Maddie

Portfolio: reference, review, reflect and report.


Article 3 “Music-induced mood modulates the strength of emotional negativity
bias: An ERP study.”
Neuroscience Letters. 28 August 2008
by: Jie Chen, Jiajin Yuan, He Huang, Changming Chen and Hong Li

Article 4 “Intensely pleasurable responses to music correlate with activity in
brain regions implicated in reward and emotion.”
The National Academy of Sciences. September 2001.
by: Anne J. Blood and Robert J. Zatorre
Montreal Neurological Institute, McGill University, Montreal

SUMMARY: Article 3

Aim of the study:
Chen, Yuan, Huang, Chen and Li set out to investigate the effect of music-elicited moods on the subsequent affective processing through a music-prime valence categorization task. This in turn would also investigate whether the processing bias of the brain for negative stimuli is modulated by mood changes in normal individuals.

The neural responses to negative images would be more intense than to positive images, irrespective of music primes. It was also predicted that the strength of emotional negativity bias, as indexed by difference ERRs between negative and positive images, would be increased with negative music prime than positive music prime.

The study used negative (sad) and positive (happy) music pieces, which were believed to elicit a wide range of powerful emotional states. They were used as priming stimuli to induce negative and positive moods. Emotional pictures were used as task-relevant target stimuli. The pictures were selected from the native Chinese Affective Picture System (CAPS) and the mood-inducing musical pieces were selected from the Chinese classical music pool more familiar with Chinese participants, to better guarantee the effectiveness of mood inducement.

Volunteers who participated in the study:
· 12 native Chinese students, 7 women and 5 men, aged 20-25 years.
· All were healthy, right-handed, with normal or corrected to normal vision and audition, and reported no history of affective disorder.

The stimulus material consisted of 7 blocks of 232 prime-target pairs, in which music excerpts served as primes and pictures as targets, and these pairs were divided into four experimental conditions:
· 58 = negative music as prime and negative picture as target.
· 58 = negative music as prime and positive picture as target.
· 58 = positive music as prime and positive picture as target.
· 58 = positive music as prime and negative picture as target.

Picture target consisted of 116 emotionally negative pictures and 116 emotionally positive pictures.
· Volunteers were seated in a quiet room in front of a computer and participated in 12 practice trials (with 3 trials under each condition) to familiarize them with the tasks.
· Electroencephalography (EEG) was recorded from 64 scalp sites.
· EEG activity for correct response in each valence condition was overlapped and averaged separately.
· To break down this interaction, the research team compared the average amplitudes elicited by positive and negative pictures for negative and positive priming conditions, respectively. Negative images elicited more negative deflections than the positive images.
· The difference between negative and positive images was larger with negative musical primes than with positive musical primes during an interval of 500-550 ms.
· The amplitude differences between negative and positive pictures were largest at LEFT FRONTAL SITES.

The study concluded that:
· The processing bias for negative over positive stimuli, as termed as emotional negativity bias, exists stably under different emotional contexts, and the strength of bias might be influenced by individuals’ mood states.
· The findings also provided evidence that the emotional negativity bias occurred not only at early stage of features detection, but also in later cognitive and memory-related stages, independent of music-induced mood states.
· Moreover, the strength of this bias was modulated by individuals’ mood states at each step of the information-processing stream, and negative mood intensified the neural sensitivity of the brain to emotionally negative stimuli.

SUMMARY: Article 4

Aim of the study:
Blood and Zatorre set out to study neural mechanisms underlying intensely pleasant emotional responses to music.

Activity changes in reward\motivation, limbic, paralimbic and arousal brain regions would correlate with the intensity of these chills.

PET (Positron Emission Tomography) scans were used to measure rCBF changes, while subjects listened to music they had selected to predictably elicit the euphoric experience of chills.

· McGill University students, aged 20-30, 5 female and 5 male with at least 8 years of music training since this demographic was more likely to experience strong emotional responses to music.
· Each subject was selected on the basis of their reports of frequent, reproducible experiences of chills in response to certain pieces of music.

· Each subject selected one piece of music that consistently elicited intensely pleasant emotional responses, including chills. Music selected was of the classical genre with no lyrics.
· Each subject’s selected music was used as another subject’s emotionally “neutral” control.
· Subjects were asked to rate the emotional intensity of their responses to each of the other nine music selections.

Scanning Procedures:
· PET scans were performed and registered with MRI scans.
· Measurements of heart rate, respiration depth and skin temperature were made during PET scans.
· After each PET scan, subjects rated their emotional reactions to each stimulus.
· Ratings were acquired for “chills intensity”,(0 to 10), “emotional intensity”(0-10) and “unpleasant vs. pleasant “ (-5 to +5).

· Subjects reported experiencing chills during 77% of scans when their own selected music was played. HR and EMG increased significantly during the highest rated chills music condition relative to the control music condition. Skin temperature did not differ significantly between these conditions.
· Chills were never reported for control music, noise or silence conditions.
· Subjects experienced chills of varying intensity while listening to their selected music.
· These chills were associated with increases in HR, EMG, and RESP relative to the control music condition, indicating changes in autonomic and other psychophysiological activity.
· Changes in brain structures that have been associated with brain reward circuitry were identified. These included:
- rCBF increases in left ventral striatum and dorsomedial midbrain and rCBF decreases in right amygdale, left hippocampus/amygdale and VMPF. These structures remained active when control music was removed.
- rCBF increases with chills intensity were also observed in paralimbic regions (bilateral insula, right OfC) and in regions associated with arousal (thalamus and AC) and motor (SMA and cerebellum) processes.
· The pattern of activity observed here in correlation with music-induced chills was similar to that observed in other brain imaging studies of euphoria and/or pleasant emotion.
· The observation of rCBF decreases in the amygdale and hippocampus during music-induced chills was compatible with the key role played by these structures in both reward and emotion.
· Brain structures correlating with intensely pleasant emotion in the present study differed considerably from those observed during unpleasant or pleasant responses to musical dissonance in our previous study.

C- Conclusion
Music recruits neural systems of reward and emotion similar to those known to respond specifically to biological relevant stimuli, such as food and sex, and those that are artificially activated by drugs of abuse.

Reflection on both articles:
Several neuroscientists whose works I am researching are exploring the connection between music and the human brain and argue that “music is fundamental to our species, perhaps even more so than language.” After reading the chosen articles, I asked myself what I had learned about music that would give me a better insight into the marvels of music and its importance in our lives.

The first article took me by surprise as I wondered how being informed that “the brain has a bias for negative stimuli over positive stimuli, independently of music-induced mood states” could enlighten me about how music is fundamental to our species. Negativity is not usually seen as a means to improving our quality of life, or as a necessary ingredient to becoming a healthy individual.

The second article particularly sparked my interest, as it revealed that music could induce intense pleasure. If learning music has the potential to augment the positive aspects of life, what better way to assist our physical and mental well-being. And, if so, how is music capable of creating intense pleasure on the one hand, yet also be incapable of changing the brain’s bias for negative stimuli? Intrigued, I decided to further investigate the significance of the findings of both articles from a biological perspective.

The first article states that our brain exhibits an emotional negativity bias that can best be understood if one considers that all of our experiences are always monitored for danger, the brain’s main function being to keep the individual, of which it is part, alive and reproducing. In The Emotional Brain: The Mysterious Underpinnings of Emotional Life (Simon & Schuster, 1996), Joseph LeDoux notes that sensory signals go directly to the amygdale, bypassing the sensory cortex before we are even aware of them, the amygdale’s role being to monitor our experience of how things are twenty-four hours a day. “This so-called “lower-route” begins to make meaning of our experience before we have begun to understand it cognitively and consciously.”

The amygdale is also called the fear centre, the danger centre or the negative emotion centre, because it ensures that we react to bad developments. Its role is to help decipher the incoming information’s meaning. When it senses danger, the amygdale sends signals directly out to the body. These subconscious signals produce body language, and in extreme cases, may directly trigger body movements that can evolve to fight or flight responses.

This is the first pathway that basic emotions follow, because its quick response assures that we are automatically protected. However, this pathway often makes mistakes in its evaluation, so a second pathway, which leads to the sensory cortex, also processes the stimuli. In the cortex, the situation is considered more carefully to better conclude how “real” the danger is to the individual and determine the appropriate response.

Viewed from the biological perspective of a survival-related brain system, the negativity bias does have a positive foundation. Consider our ancestors who lived with hungry predators lurking in every shadow. Negative emotions such as fear and anger allowed them to react very swiftly to danger and survive. We no longer need to hunt and kill our prey to eat; we simply go to the grocery store. The expression of negative emotions such as fear and anger do not prove as beneficial in our society, as they tend to develop into phobias or depression as modern-day mental stress levels engulf our lives.

So, is this survival-related brain system as relevant today since its programming tends to solicit certain behaviours no longer called upon, given the different social context in which we live? And, why is it that the positive music introduced to the subjects in the first article could not change the negative moods of the subjects during the experiment, while in the second article, listening to positive music brought intense pleasure to the musicians?

Of course, the subjects in the first article were shown a negative picture which triggered their brain’s survival mechanism, but why did they react to such an extent that positive music could not transform their negative thoughts into positive ones? After all, the subjects were in no danger; in fact, they were in a very safe controlled laboratory environment. Why couldn’t they shake off the primitive pattern?

Shouldn’t we then be looking at different ways to reprogram this brain related-survival mechanism? It seems evolution hasn’t been able to keep up with man’s ingenuity. And, if an automatic survival system can trigger unsolicited emotions and behaviours, it can certainly inhibit behaviours of which we are unaware and which could prove to be more beneficial to us.

Could this also be the case with music? In the first study, positive music couldn’t change the subjects’ moods, yet, in the second study, was quite capable when the survival mechanism wasn’t activated, no negative stimuli being introduced. Does this mean that activating the survival mechanism inhibits music from engaging its positive mechanisms, which could prove to be very beneficial in today’s complex society?

In the second article, music induced intense pleasure for the musician “by recruiting neural systems of reward and emotion similar to those known to respond specifically to biologically relevant stimuli, such as food, and sex, and those that are artificially activated by drugs of abuse.” Why did the subjects’ brains respond to positive music in the same way they would when our physical needs are met? After all, music is not a biological relevant stimulus like food, sleep and sex. In fact, music is neither strictly necessary for biological survival nor reproduction. It is an abstract stimulus that appears to express the motives and feelings of communication itself. Could this be an example of a behaviour that is usually inhibited by our brain-related survival mechanism, yet once allowed to express itself, proves to be beneficial to our mental well-being?

Given the right conditions, a positive environment that doesn’t trigger the survival mechanism and a trained musician who appreciates the harmony of a musical piece, music has the potential to influence the brain to assign meaning to abstract stimuli that are of higher cognitive functioning. The end result is that musicians can experience intense pleasure, not because they are satisfying a biological need, but because they have created a state a mind by listening to a piece’s particular patterns, evoking feelings and images which create order in their consciousness, and that, quite simply, feels good.

Could this be the almost mystical power that some believe music wields over the human mind? If so, as we further investigate how to control our brain-related survival mechanism and begin to tap into music’s immense potential, we may hopefully one day develop the ability to override our consciousness’ genetic instructions manual and set our own independent course of action.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

(Posted by Michael Bellissimo)

Some Johns Hopkins researchers decided to study Jazz Musicians and improvisation, in an attempt to show that “their brains turn off areas linked to self-censoring and inhibition, and turn on those that let self-expression flow.”
The MRI was used in this study and the researches wanted to use it while the musicians actually played. They had to design special keyboard that contained no metal parts and head phones that were also not going interfere with the magnetic field created by the MRI. Three jazz musicians from the Peabody Music Conservatory volunteered for the study.
Each musician first took part in four different exercises designed to separate out the brain activity involved in playing simple memorized piano pieces and activity while improvising their music. While lying in the fMRI machine with the special keyboard propped on their laps, the pianists all began by playing the C-major scale, a well-memorized order of notes that every beginner learns. With the sound of a metronome playing over the headphones, the musicians were instructed to play the scale, making sure that each volunteer played the same notes with the same timing.
In the second exercise, the pianists were asked to improvise in time with the metronome. They were asked to use quarter notes on the C-major scale, but could play any of these notes that they wanted.
Next, the musicians were asked to play an original blues melody that they all memorized in advance, while a recorded jazz quartet that complemented the tune played in the background. In the last exercise, the musicians were told to improvise their own tunes with the same recorded jazz quartet.
The brain scans were analysed and the researcher removed the scans that were typically associated with memorization from the portion of the study where familiar exercises were played. They then looked at the brain activity from the improv portion of the test. Regardless of the complexity of the improvisational exercise they found that found that a region of the brain known as the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, a broad portion of the front of the brain revealed a slowing of activity in the area typically used for self-censoring suggesting an increased state of inhibition. In addition there was increased activity in the medial prefrontal cortex (center of the brain’s frontal lobe) that is responsible for self-expression individuality.


As a musician who also majored in jazz I often wondered what was going on while I was improvising or for that matter was going on when the GREAT jazz musician played. The interesting thing about this is that you may be able to equate the area on the brain that reveals increased inhibition with the person who demonstrates a “free” attitude and increased inhibition and determine the better improviser. There are in fact many stories about the great jazz musician and there ability to behave in a way that was unlike those in “straight” society. This may also reveal the link to drug use especially during the 1960’s.
If this research pans out then could we see jazz, or improvisational dance, as a therapeutic method for those with paranoia, depression, panic attacks, or disorders related to fear?

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Nature AND Nurture? - "It's in the Genes!"

Genome-wide linkage scan for loci of music aptitude in Finnish families:
evidence for a major locus at 4q22
K. Pulli, K. Karma, R. Norio, P. Sistonen, H.H.H. Goring, I. Jarvela
Journal of Medical Genetics 2008 45: 451-456

Review and Response by John Picone

This paper was the focus of discussion among interested students and teachers at a monthly gathering hosted by the McMaster Institute for Music and the Mind. Dr. Steven Brown chaired the meeting.
The seminal question is a simple one: where does musical perception and performance come from? Why is it that some people are “musical” and others not so? Is it “nature” or “nurture”?
The objective of this study is to “unravel the biological background of music perception using molecular and statistical genetic approaches” (p. 451).
The paper sets the stage for the study with several significant observations.
Music is an ancient and universal feature across all human societies. The ability to appreciate music requires no explicit training. The universality of musical behaviour and validity of common rules such as use of octave-based scale systems and preference for consonance over dissonance in nearly all types of music can be seen as evidence for innateness. Rules have arisen independently in isolated cultures, and some of them also apply to the music perception of non-human species. This implies that these rules have their basis in brain organization rather than in culture (p. 451).
The researchers point out the difference between adult and infant perception of music: “Adults’ abilities to perceive music are somewhat dependent on culture, whereas infants seem to possess a more generalized capability, which obeys the aforementioned universal rules of music” (451). They note that this innate ability can be modified environmentally. “A fundamental question is whether, or at what level, this ability is genetically determined” (451).
The paper notes that “neuroimaging and neurophysiological studies have shown that listening to and/or playing music has multiple effects on brain structure and function, suggesting a biological effect,” but that “the molecules mediating these responses remain uncharacterized” (p. 451). While “professional musicianship clusters in families,” the subject of the debate remains “how much this aggregation is due to genetic or environmental factors” (p. 451)
Musical ability varies between individuals, and seems to be expressed at the population level in such a way that both extremes (extremely capable or incapable individuals) are rare, and hence most individuals express moderate ability. This is a typical feature of a complex trait influenced by several underlying genes, environmental factors and their interactions. We hypothesized that music aptitude is an innate cognitive ability that is partly under genetic regulation and serves as a basis for music expertise in a favourable environment (p. 451).
The methods used by the researchers are as follows:
15 Finnish multigenerational families (with a total of 234 family members) were recruited via a nationwide search. The phenotype of all family members was determined using three tests used in defining musical aptitude: a test for auditory structuring ability (Karma Music test; KMT) commonly used in Finland, and the Seashore pitch and time discrimination subtests (SP and ST respectively) used internationally. We calculated heritabilities and performed a genome-wide variance components-based linkage scan using genotype data for 1113 microsatellite markers p. 451).
The study arrives at three significant conclusions:
Three tests of musical aptitude, an auditory structuring ability test (Karma Music test; KMT), Seashore test for pitch (SP) and for time (ST) showed substantial heritability in 15 Finnish families.
Significant evidence of linkage was obtained for chromosome 4q22 (LOD 3.33) and suggestive evidence of linkage for 8q 13-21 (LOD 2.29), with the combined music test scores using variance component (VC) linkage analyses in the Finnish families.
Our results show that there is a genetic contribution to musical aptitude that is likely to be regulated by several predisposing genes/variants (p. 456).
There were two aspects of the study itself that intrigued me. The first had to do with the way family members in the study were grouped by age: under 9 years of age; between 9 and 11 years of age; over the age of 11. The study offered no rationale for this grouping. What was significant to me was the fact that, while the test scores in the youngest group were notably lower than the scores in the other two age groups, the scores in the middle group – ages 9 to 11 - were the same as the scores in the older group. The researchers note that these results are in agreement with previous studies and that such data suggest that “the maturation of the brain for musical aptitude occurs relatively early” (p. 452).
Is there a magic age at which to begin music lessons? Providing a favourable environment to work with a genetic predisposition to be musical?
The second aspect of the study that caught my attention had to do with the results of the tests with respect to the musical training of the family members. The participants were categorized into three groups: no musical training, amateur, and professional. My instinct told me that those at the professional level, with many years of musical training informing their musical ability, would naturally score higher on the tests. Such was not always the case. As the study points out, “The KMT is devised to measure auditory structuring in a way that minimizes the effect of training and/or culture” (p. 452). Test scores reveal that “musical training is not a necessary condition for a high score” p. 453). At the same time, “although there was a clear connection between musical training and the scores, the source of this relationship was not revealed by the scores. Training may have driven performance and/or performance was driven by selection because substantial innate musical aptitude is necessary n order to become a successful professional musician” (p. 453). As one of the group pointed out, people who sing out of key can be trained to sing on key.
The most engaging point of discussion following Dr. Brown’s presentation of the study centered on the influence of culture on one’s musical ability. Dr. Trainor pointed out that family members not only share genetics, but also environment. An interesting study, then, would be to look at the musical ability of adopted or foster children who share a musically rich environment, but not the genetics of their “parents.”
Finally, the discussion surrounding the study prompted me to look at my own musical ability and wonder just how it is that I’m the only one in my extended family who has made a career out of music as a high school music educator and conductor. Both my siblings and many of my cousins took piano lessons, but none pursue their music today. In sharing some of this with my parents, I discovered that making music was very much part of their environment as children, that piano, violin and accordion were played by my grandparents and great grandparents. I’m told I was sung to as much as I was read to as a young child. And how could I ever forget the Christmas my sister and I received “one big present instead of many little ones”: an RCA Victor record player with a single album by Mario Lanza featuring “O Holy Night.” I can still hear it today!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Binaural Auditory Beats Affect Vigilance Performance and Mood.

Reviewer: Liesel Deppe

Reference: Binaural Auditory Beats Affect Vigilance Performance and Mood. James D. Lane, Stefan J. Kasian, Justine E. Owens, Gail R. Marsh. Physiology and Behaviour, Volume 63, No. 2. pp. 249-252.

Summary: When two tones of slightly different frequency are presented separately to the left and right ears, the listener perceives a tone that varies in amplitude at a frequency equal to the difference between the two tones. This perceptual phenomenon is known as the binaural auditory beat. Few studies have been published, but anecdotal evidence suggests that these binaural auditory beats affect states of consciousness.

This particular study compared the effects of binaural auditory beats in the EEG beta and EEG theta/ delta ranges on mood, as well as performance of a vigilance task.

Review: This study showed that presentation of beta-frequency binaural auditory beats produced more correct target detections and fewer false alarms than presentation of theta/ delta-frequency binaural auditory beats did. These results suggest that the presentation of binaural auditory beats can affect psychomotor performance and mood. These results may be applied to control attention and arousal and therefore enhance human performance.

Personal Response: As with most of these studies, I find that the number of subjects is to small to come to a concrete conclusion about the effects of binaural auditory beats on human performance. However, the research seems rather promising. Again, this article could be applied to the topic of my final paper: although one would normally want to reduce beta frequencies to combat performance anxiety, this study seems to suggest that it is actually quite beneficial to human performance, and as a result to musical performance. Perhaps musicians do need this frequency in order to maintain concentration and perform at optimum levels.

A Comprehensive Review of the Psychological Effects of Brainwave Entrainment. - Liesel Deppe

Reference: A Comprehensive Review of the Psychological Effects of Brainwave Entrainment. By Tina L. Huang and Christine Charyton. Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine; Sep/Oct 2008; 14, 5; Research Library

Summary: The authors searched for studies that have documented brainwave entrainment between the years 1806(!) and 2007. They limited their studies to those written in the English language during this time period. They further narrowed their selection by limiting it to those studies that used rhythmic stimuli to affect psychological outcomes. Case studies and peer-reviewed articles were also excluded. Psychological outcomes were measured using standard assessment methods. Clinical measurements, such as electro-encaphalogram response, galvanic skin response and neurotransmitter levels were exluded.

Psychological outcomes addressed, included the following: cognition, stress and anxiety, pain relief, mood, behaviour, premenstrual syndrome, headaches and migraines.

Review: The authors systematically approached their review and set out their method clearly and logically. They also include a brief history of how the first clinical application of brainwave entrainment (BWE) was discovered and applied in the 1800’s. They continue to trace its history, culminating with the present-day research, which are clearly more sophisticated than in its early days.

For each psychological outcome, the authors listed the studies and some the statistics for those studies. These statistics included how many studies, how many subjects; their gender and age, duration of the session, amongst others. Findings were presented both in table form (good for a quick overview), as well as a narrative to flesh out the information specified in the tables.

For my purposes, I found it useful that the authors also chose to focus a little on the various frequencies and their effects, both short-term and long-term.

I agree that more work is needed to show the effects and applications of BWE. In particular, I would like to see more studies with a higher number of participants, so that the statistical sample will be larger.

Personal Response: The authors’ findings suggest that brainwave entrainment can be used as an effective therapeutic tool. However, they do point out that more controlled trials are necessary to test additional protocols with outcomes. As such, this review supplied me with information and further reading suggestions for my final paper. In this paper I intend to discuss brainwave entrainment as a tool for musicians in combating performance anxiety.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Adolescence: A Challenge with Hormones and Behaviour

Title: The Adolescent Brain, Hormones and Behaviour
Review: Janet Spring
Sato, S., Schulz, K., Sisk, C., Wood, R. (2008). Adolescents and androgens, receptors and rewards, Hormones and Behaviour, 53: 647 – 658.

Adolescence is a time when the brain is undergoing many significant changes. As hormone levels increase and levels are modified, many alterations have been noted in adolescent behaviour. In the study of Sato et al. (2008), the authors hypothesize that “pubertal secretion of gonadal hormones, their activation of steroid receptors in the brain, and the interaction between hormone and experience on adolescent brain development contribute to the behavioural changes seen during adolescence” (p. 647). In other words, typical actions, manners and general conduct of adolescents, which is often negative and immature is due to the brain development that is taking place as well as the attack of hormones that are secreted during puberty.

The authors base the above assumption on studies completed to date and review the results that point to the fact that pubertal androgens, or hormones have both “transient and long-term effects on reward circuits and motivated behaviour” (p. 648). Evidence also proves the theory that adolescents who take anabolic-androgenic steroids are upsetting the balance of pubertal androgens, negatively affecting brain development and behaviour. Adolescence has proven to be a period of important and major brain development when “behaviour circuits are remodeled and refined” (p. 648). The authors list these processes and the studies related to them: neurogenesis, programmed cell death, elaboration and pruning of dendritic aborizations and synapses, myelination, and sexual differentiation. They comment that during adolescence these processes are at risk if tampered with, leading to negative consequences for later adolescent and adult behaviour.

Many studies completed by Sato et al. (2008) and other researchers have evaluated the adolescent brain and behaviour by investigating male adult behaviour and brain functions related to the sex act. Studies completed on adolescents, adults and hamsters show that “sexual behaviour and other natural rewards activate neural reward pathways” (p. 649). If drugs such as cocaine, amphetamines, steroids, etc. are taken during adolescence in an abusive manner, they affect hormonal levels which in turn potentially “alter the normal maturation of brain and behaviour to produce exaggerated morphological and behavioural responses, acutely and chronically” (p. 653). Inappropriate behaviour in the form of aggression, sexual aggression and anger may result as the adolescent approaches adulthood.

As the adolescent becomes more competitive and develops a keen interest in sports activities, he or she may become dependent on steroids and other drugs of abuse. The authors warn that exposing the body to these may negatively affect the neural changes that are taking place during adolescence and adversely affect sexual behaviour. Consequently, they comment that further investigation must be completed in this area to shed light on the profound neural changes that occur during adolescence, a study that to this point in time is limited, and how these changes can be adversely affected by hormonal exposure.


The adolescent student is one who displays sudden changes in behaviour that seems to be affected by peer involvement, by extra-curricular activities and influences of home and school. However, the adolescent is also being bombarded by certain androgens as well as significant brain development that also affect behaviour and attitude. As a seemingly ‘normal’ child in the 6th grade who demonstrates discipline, compassion, and dedication to school moves to the 7th grade and beyond, his or her behaviour and overall personality sometimes changes drastically to an unmotivated, ‘spaced out’ kid, who is in need of guidance and re-tracking. I see this change every year, particularly with the music students I work with on an extra-curricular basis. It takes constant reminders to make the students who seem wired with ‘new attitude’ to focus on their instrumental or vocal studies. It also seems so much worse with the boys who need continual praise just to stay focused on the music lesson. The girls do show some changes in attitude, but not to the same extent as the boys.

Also, with outside negative influences, the adolescent may get involved in taking drugs for either sports achievement enhancement or for social/behavioural reasons. It is therefore very important for further study to be completed on the adolescent and the affects of drugs and hormone use on the development of the brain so that we may be well educated and proactive to assist our students through this very important developmental stage of their lives.

This Is Your Brain On Google!

The Hamilton Spectator
Friday, October 17, 2008
Page Go 2
Review and Response by John Picone
What caught my attention was the introductory title of this article on the front page of the GoFriday section of the newspaper: “This is your brain on Google: Why the modern mind is suffering.” The title is a play on the title of Daniel Levitan’s book, This Is Your Brain On Music. The article is informed by an interview with Gary Small, M.D., one of the two authors of iBrain: surviving the technological alteration of the modern mind (HarperCollins). The co-author is Gigi Vorgan.
Small’s assertion is a simple one: “Digital technology is rewiring young brains.” Small is a Harvard-trained psychiatrist and director of the Memory and Aging Research Center at the University of Californai at Los Angeles. And he’s worried! Bombarded by digital technology, he says, our brains are adapting, altering not only how we think but also how we feel and behave. “There’s the concern that we could be losing something about how we define ourselves as human beings… We’re talking about significant brain changes happening over mere decades rather than millennia.”
In an experiment at UCLA, he used functional MRI scanners to study the brains of volunteers – some computer-savvy, some Internet innocents – while they searched Google. Their neural activity was distinctly different. But he found that after only five hours of Internet practice, his Google greenhorns were activating the same circuitry as the pros. The naïve subjects, he writes, had rewired their brains.
His concern is directed at the young, the adolescents who “tend to be the most digitally dug in.” He notes that young people aged 8 to 18 expose their brains on average to 8 ½ hours a day of digital and video sensory stimulation (watching television, playing video games, using the computer). Small is quoting a recent Kaiser Foundation study. “If you expose the brain to repetitive events, you’re going to tweak those neurocircuits. They’ll be strengthened and made more efficient,” he explains. “And if you don’t expose it to other events, other neurocircuits will be weakened.”
In this light, Small is worried about the neural pathways needed for developing traditional one-on-one skills, verbal and non-verbal, such as picking up cues from facial expressions and body language. “My concern is that the quality of our lives will change for the worse. We’ll feel less connected.”
In citing the chronic multi-tasking of the teenager, Small points out that this propensity may impair development of the parts of the brain that help give us the big picture, to focus and have the ability to delay gratification. Too much time in cyberspace and video-game land could stunt frontal lobe development in some teens. “It’s possible that they could remain locked into a neural circuitry that stays at an immature and self-absorbed emotional level right through adulthood,” he writes.
Perhaps the most frightening statistic of all is that an estimated 20 per cent of the younger generation meets the clinical criteria for “pathological” Internet use. They are plugged in so much that it interferes negatively with almost every other aspect of their lives. The worst brain-sucking culprit, according to many parents, are video games, blamed for turning players into glassy-eyed, deaf zombies. And worse. One wonders, of course, what responsibility these same parents are assuming for their children’s upbringing.
In sum, “My position on video games is my position on technology,” he says. “Let’s understand it and use it with balance.”
My personal response to Small’s observations is twofold. First, as a high school teacher of thirty years, I can only concur with what I perceive as behaviours among young people that subscribe to the observable phenomena Small describes. To me, there has been a conspicuous alteration in young people’s decorum even in the last five years. Not to my surprise, this parallels the increasing prevalence of PEDs, personal electronic devices.
Such behaviours are even more salient in music education that demands attitudes and actions by young musicians in band that are quite the antithesis of those behaviours Small is concerned about: respect, sensitivity, cooperation, responsibility. It is my observation that young musicians are more forgetful, leaving instruments at home or music in their locker. The are more often late or absent from rehearsal and do not afford the conductor the courtesy of informing him or her ahead of time that they will not be in attendance.
Focus in music class or at rehearsal is poor. I have to point something out to a musician several times before they “get it.” Inappropriate and distracting chatter while the conductor is explaining something to the whole band or making an important announcement about an upcoming concert is prevalent. The studio is left in a mess with water bottles on the floor and methods books forgotten on music stands.
The most obvious behaviour that supports Small’s concern is what I perceive to be practice, preparation for rehearsal, that is increasingly less effective, if it happens at all. Clearly, technological pursuits and distractions at home are the main thieves of quality practice time. Couple this with a decreasing sense of responsibility to and for other members of the band, and it becomes increasingly difficult to move toward performance standard in time for the Christmas Concert.
And disheartening beyond words is the musicians who comes to rehearsal “plugged in” to his iPod right up to the point of the conductor asking him to remove the earphones and get ready to tune or warm up.
My second response is the other side of the coin: it would appear that the band experience is the perfect antidote to the lack of neurocircuitry development Small is concerned about. The successful and happy band musician must develop focus, self-discipline, respect, responsibility and a sense of cooperation to counteract the egotistical self-absorption nurtured by the inordinate amount of time spent by young people with PEDs. It’s possible that practice time at home, if rendered irresistible by the conductor through careful repertoire selection and instruction on effective self-directed practice strategies, can “rob” the musician of some of the 8 ½ hours each day on the computer.
My experience in this course, Music and the Brain, has, among many other things, impressed one aspect of our brain upon me: it can learn. It can change. And we are capable of changing it!
In the face of brain-sucking technology that is becoming increasingly a part of the adolescent culture, I can only muster my courage, redouble my efforts, and renew my passion and commitment to music education. It may be our only hope.