What music reveals about our minds

What music reveals about our minds


Music is a powerful tool for accessing information about ourselves. Two recent studies are offering new insights into how our favorite tunes relate to memories and our personalities and how those connections can improve lives.

Listening to a favorite, familiar or “throwback” song can instantly transport you to another moment in your life, bringing the details back with amazing clarity. And it’s not just a fanciful feeling – there’s the science behind how our minds connect music with memory.

There has long been a beneficial association between music and patients with Alzheimer’s or dementia.

Repeated listening to music that has personal meaning has been found to improve brain adaptability in patients with early-stage Alzheimer’s disease or mild cognitive impairment.

Listening to music with special significance stimulated neural pathways in the brain that helped them maintain higher levels of functioning, according to Michael Thaut, senior author of a study led by University of Toronto researchers. It was published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease in November.

These songs had a unique meaning, like the music people danced to at their wedding, and led to an increase in memory performance on tests. The findings could support the inclusion of music-based therapy in the treatment of patients with cognitive impairment in the future.

The changes were most notable in the prefrontal cortex, known as the control center of the brain, where decision making, moderation of social behavior, personality expression, and planning of complex mental behaviors occur.

When patients listened to music that was personal to them, they fed a musical neural network that connected different regions of the brain, based on MRIs performed by patients before and after listening to the music. This differed from when they heard new and unknown music, which only activated a specific part of the brain tuned to listening.

There were only 14 participants in the study, including six musicians, and they listened to specially curated playlists for one hour a day for three weeks. But these participants are the same as in a previous study that identified neural mechanisms for preserving music-related memories in those experiencing early cognitive decline.

“Whether you’ve been a lifelong musician or have never played an instrument, music is a key to your memory, your prefrontal cortex,” said Thaut, who is the director of the Music and Health Science Research Collaboratory of the ‘University of Toronto and a professor at the Faculty of Music and the Faculty of Medicine of Temerty, in a note. He is also holder of Canada’s Tier One Research Chair in Music, Neuroscience and Health. “It’s simple: keep listening to the music you’ve loved all your life. Your favorite songs of all time, those songs that are particularly meaningful to you, make this your brain gym.

The research is a promising start that could lead to music therapy applications with a broader scope.

It also highlights another connection: music and our personalities.

Music is linked to our desire to communicate, tell stories and share values ​​with one another and has deep roots in early human cultures.

So perhaps it’s not surprising that, as human beings, we have forged connections and bonds with certain genres or styles of music as a way to express ourselves and convey our personality.

A recent study on six continents with more than 350,000 participants showed that personality types are linked to certain musical preferences.

During the study, people from more than 50 countries self-reported their enjoyment of 23 different musical genres while also completing a personality questionnaire. A second evaluation also required participants to listen to short music clips from 16 different genres and sub-genres of Western music and rank them. The study was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in February.

Music fell into five main style categories. “Mellow” is associated with soft rock, R&B and contemporary adult music, including romantic lyrics and slow beats, while “intense” is stronger and more aggressive music such as punk, classic rock, heavy metal and power pop. Other categories included “contemporary” (upbeat electronic, rap, Latin and Euro-pop), “sophisticated” (classical, opera, jazz) and “unpretentious” (relaxed or country music genres).

The results revealed direct links between extroverts and contemporary music, conscientiousness and unassuming music, agreeableness and sweet or unassuming music. The opening was connected to sweet, intense, sophisticated and contemporary music.

This means that songs like Ed Sheeran’s “Shivers” appeal to extroverts, while nice people would be happy to hear Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On”. Meanwhile, open people tend to enjoy Nina Simone or David Bowie’s classic “Space Oddity”. And all of these types of songs have a charm that crosses national borders, according to the study.

“We were surprised how much these patterns of music and personality have replicated around the world,” said study author David Greenberg, honorary associate researcher at Cambridge University and postdoctoral scholar at Bar-Ilan. University, in a statement.

“People can be divided by geography, language and culture, but if an introvert in one part of the world likes the same music as introverts elsewhere, it suggests that music could be a very powerful bridge. Music helps people understand each other and find common ground. ”

They were all positive associations, but they also found a negative connection between conscientiousness and intense music.

“We thought the neuroticism would probably go two ways, preferring sad music to express their loneliness or preferring upbeat music to change their mood. In fact, on average, they seem to prefer more intense musical styles, which perhaps reflects the ‘inner anguish and frustration, ”Greenberg said.

“It was surprising, but people use music in different ways: some might use it for catharsis, others to change their mood. We will examine it in more detail. ”

Researchers recognize that musical taste is not set in stone and can change. But the study provides a foundation for understanding how music can cross other social divisions and bring people together, Greenberg said.

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