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Neural Nourishment

How discovering new music may garner some serious brain gains

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Music, they say, is universal. Whether we’re belting out pop songs in the shower or jamming to a carefully curated soundtrack for that road trip with friends, music enhances many human experiences. It turns out, music may also be impacting our brain functions. Some studies have found that music therapy in Parkinson’s patients, by providing familiar music to a patient, can relieve symptoms of this neurodegenerative disease due in part to music’s connection to emotion and memory. But what about new music?

A recent poll suggests that humans reach their peak of musical discovery in our mid to late twenties, after which, humans tend not to seek out novel music. What’s more, how we’re streaming music is largely reliant on algorithms, which create profiles based on previous listening habits. Not all apps rely on these algorithms of course, Amp, for example, relies on a more human centric approach, inspiring folks to share what they love with their communities directly. Algorithms aside, this trend is something researchers are calling “musical paralysis”, where we stop seeking out new grooves in favor of old favorites.

“Music has this strong nostalgia effect,” says neuroscientist Dr. Yune Lee, who studies the effects of music on the brain as an Assistant Professor at the Department of Speech, Language and Hearing at the University of Texas at Dallas. “People who have Alzheimer’s disease, they lose a lot of memories. They cannot recognize their family members. But as soon as they listen to the music, the tunes that they used to love, all of a sudden it wakes up the person immediately. The Alzheimer patients start responding to yes/no questions quickly, start recognizing their loved ones and all the memories associated with the time comes back.”

While familiar music can have some regenerative qualities in brains with neurodegenerative diseases, like Parkinon’s and Alzeihmer’s, new music may also boost our brain function when interacting with the frontal lobe, which manages our higher level functions like planning and organizing as well as motor functions like dancing. It also interacts with both hemispheres of the brain, due to music’s effects on the temporal lobe, which recognizes both language, the left hemisphere, and sound which directly interacts with the right hemisphere. Essentially, listening to music gives your brain a workout, much in the same way that cardiovascular exercise can help your heart. According to one hypothesis, music may facilitate neurogenesis, the regeneration of neural pathways, ultimately leading to brain plasticity, or the ability of our neural networks to change through growth and reorganization.

Our appreciation of music is deep rooted in our brains. “When you are exposed to something new, your brain basically learns new information” says Dr. Lee. “What that means at the cellular level is it begins to establish some new connections between neurons. Neurons are the cells in the brain, and then that will form some kind of memory associated with that new information. Then it goes to your emotional system, and there you evaluate whether you like this music or not. If you like it, then it has more value to you.” This association between music and our brain stems from the hippocampus, considered to be the central part of our brain, and unsurprisingly, the first part of our brains directly affected by diseases like Alzheimer’s.

While the science on novel music and its definitive effects on the brain is still scant, research is ongoing. But what can we do right now to avoid musical paralysis, and potentially keep our brains fit and healthy? Well, discovering new music surely couldn’t hurt, and Amp offers listeners a chance to do exactly that, by tapping their community for fresh tunes through curated playlists that don’t depend on algorithms. While we all fall into musical ruts sometimes, we shouldn’t have to and it’s quite possible your brain’s health could benefit from all the tasty new tunes.