University of Toronto
Course: MUS 2122H: Music and the Brain - Fall 2008
Instructor: Dr. Lee Bartel
Portfolio: reference, review, reflect and report.
ENTRIES 9 & 10
Musical Training Influences Linguistic Abilities in 8-Year-Old Children: More Evidence for Brain Plasticity
by Sylvain Moreno, Carlos Marques, Andreia Santos, Manuela Santos, São Luís Castro and Mireille Besson
Cerebral Cortex (Oct. 1 2008)
Music, immunity and cancer
by M.J. Nunez, P. Mana, D. Linares, M.P. Riveiro, J. Balboa, J. Suarez-Quintanilla, M. Maracchi, M.R. Mendez, J.M. Lopez and M. Freire-Garabal
Life Sciences 71:9 (2002) 1047-1057
B1- SUMMARY OF ARTICLE 9
The research team conducted a 9-month study in which 32 eight-year-old nonmusician children performed tasks designed to test the hypothesis that “musical training improves pitch processing not only in music but also in speech.” The results showed that, after musical training, the children’s reading and pitch discrimination abilities in speech improved; in effect, proving musical information could enhance learning. It only took “6 months of musical training to significantly improve behaviour and to influence the development of neural processes as reflected in specific pattern of brain waves”. The team concluded that these results revealed a positive transfer from music to speech, reinforced the influence of musical training and effectively demonstrated brain plasticity, in that relatively short periods of training had strong consequences on the functional organization of a child’s brain.
B2- SUMMARY OF ARTICLE 10
The researchers, influenced by studies suggesting music may reduce stress response, evaluated the effects of music on the immune system and cancer development in rodents subjected to sound stress.
They found that music
a. “reduced the suppressive effects of stress on the immune parameter in mice.”
b. “decreased the enhancing effects of stress in the development of lung metastases provoked by carcinosarcoma cells.”
c. “enhanced the immune parameter and the anti-tumour response in unstressed rodents.”
d. “appeared to be as effective as pharmacological intervention in the reversion of stress-induced immunosuppression.”
The team also noted how the findings about the effects of music on the immune system and cancer were finally being considered as valid from a biological point of view. Since music is an emotional form of communication and emotions are the subjective correspondent to hormonal and neurophysiological processes, they argued that hormonal and neurophysiological charges were adequate means for interpreting effectiveness of different forms of music on the immune response under stress conditions. They concluded that music was evolving as an important therapeutic factor involved in “the interdisciplinary approach to health and disease” and could not only reduce stress and redefine a patient’s experience of pain and contribute to healing and learning, but also improve the immunological response of the body against cancer and infection.
Much more is understood about the circuitry of the brain, but more work is needed to translate research into effective use. How we choose to translate these findings is exceedingly important, as they will determine our future. On the one hand, scientists are experimenting with the brain’s chemistry, seeking to develop drugs that alter chemical messengers in the brain to combat disease, or alter our states of mind. Technology is used to merge flesh and machine with pacemakers, artificial hips and hearts, implants, robotic technology, computer chips and nanotechnology, while researchers are exploring ways to control the genetic makeup of the human species through genetic engineering. On the other hand, it is both comforting and encouraging to read that other researchers are using our increasing knowledge about the brain in non-invasive ways to tap into its dormant potential. What questions should be asked about either approach?
In this context, how can music improve humankind’s lot when compared to technology, drugs and genetic engineering? A more important question may be to ask how choosing more invasive solutions will impact humankind. Both articles demonstrated how music has potential to be beneficial by improving both cognitive development and communicative skills, musical training able to improve pitch in reading and speech, and health and well-being, music reducing the stress on immune systems. If we were to translate these findings to educational and health care systems by making music mandatory, what could be the consequences?
Musical training’s ability to benefit reading and speech could assist learning a second language. In a global society, in which the Internet makes it possible for our neighbours to be anyone, being multilingual to facilitate communication with many cultures would be advantageous. Kids already value the friendships that result from Internet exchanges and would understand the relevance. Since music has the ability to make learning fun and enjoyable, might this not be a valuable alternative approach to dealing with the problems associated with literacy? Choosing more flexible tools, which aim at awakening intrinsic motivation to learning rather than floundering with the system’s present use of extrinsic motivation, could reignite the love of learning to read and write.
And with scientists now valuing findings that prove music can reduce stress on our immune system, the medical field could make the study of wellness as important as the study of illness. Major breakthroughs in health and well-being could grow exponentially, simply by investigating methods of self-preservation in times of adversity and the avoidance of stress. This could shift our focus from disease to vulnerabilities and from symptoms to adaptive defences. On a wider scale, any breakthrough could encourage all disciplines to fund similar research, ultimately promoting a better human experience.
But, down to brass tacks. Technology, drugs and genetic engineering still rule. Clearly, they provide the means to rid patients of diseases or ailments. What makes them more appealing, however, is their power to change the definition of what it is to be human. In choosing these options, man is no longer a passive observer of life, but a manipulator of life. Genetic engineering promises designer babies; drugs, a pain-free life; technology, reconstruction of the physical self. The question remains: Who will assume responsibility for whatever forms of life are manipulated or created? Who will assume responsibility for choosing what human genome to encourage? Should we aim for uniformity or diversity? Everyone wants intelligent and successful children, but what would happen if we were all the same? And should there really be a vaccine that counters the vicissitudes of life’s stress, depression and anxiety? If humans were defined as machines, wouldn’t they be subject to the same technological manipulations routinely applied to them?
Humankind’s view of itself has been challenged in every century. A simple wish, that our present choices make us feel special and part of an unfolding bigger picture. As research in music is revealing, we can get there by building, rather than by destroying, who we are. The human soul abounds with untapped energy; we only need to hear our inner music to unleash its potential.