Music is often said to be the universal language of the soul, but it may also have profound effects on the brain. A new study by researchers from the University of Jyväskylä in Finland and the University of Oxford in the UK has found that listening to rhythmic music can enhance the activity of the prefrontal cortex, a brain region involved in cognitive functions such as planning, decision-making, and creativity.
The power of rhythm
The study, published in the journal NeuroImage, involved 18 healthy participants who listened to different types of music while undergoing functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), a technique that measures brain activity by detecting changes in blood flow. The researchers compared the effects of rhythmic music, which has a clear and regular beat, with non-rhythmic music, which has no discernible pulse or meter.
The results showed that rhythmic music increased the connectivity between the prefrontal cortex and other brain regions, such as the motor cortex, the auditory cortex, and the cerebellum. This suggests that rhythmic music can facilitate the integration of information across different brain systems, leading to enhanced cognitive performance.
The researchers also found that rhythmic music increased the activity of the left prefrontal cortex, which is associated with positive emotions, creativity, and divergent thinking. This indicates that rhythmic music can boost mood and stimulate novel and flexible thinking.
The benefits of music for the brain
The study adds to the growing body of evidence that music can have beneficial effects on the brain and cognition. Previous studies have shown that music can improve memory, attention, language, and mathematical skills, as well as reduce stress, anxiety, and depression.
The researchers suggest that rhythmic music may be especially helpful for people who suffer from impaired prefrontal cortex function, such as those with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), schizophrenia, or dementia. They also propose that rhythmic music could be used as a therapeutic tool to enhance brain plasticity, the ability of the brain to adapt and reorganize itself in response to new experiences.
The study also has implications for education, as rhythmic music could be used to facilitate learning and creativity in students. The researchers recommend that teachers and parents expose children to rhythmic music from an early age, as this could foster the development of their prefrontal cortex and cognitive abilities.
The future of music and neuroscience
The study is part of a larger project called Rhythm and the Brain, which aims to investigate how music and rhythm affect the brain and behavior. The project is led by Professor Petri Toiviainen from the University of Jyväskylä and Professor Robin Dunbar from the University of Oxford, and involves researchers from Finland, the UK, Germany, and Canada.
The project is funded by the European Research Council (ERC) and the Academy of Finland, and uses a variety of methods, such as fMRI, electroencephalography (EEG), behavioral experiments, and surveys, to explore the neural and social mechanisms of music and rhythm.
The researchers hope that their findings will contribute to the advancement of music and neuroscience, as well as to the understanding of human nature and culture.