Sunday, February 27, 2011

More On Mirror Neurons

I'm betting that of all the new information we're getting about how our brains respond to music, what we find out about mirror neurons will be the most helpful in explaining how music can affect us so deeply. It's beginning to look like the ability of music to trigger mirror neurons will be the key to understanding how it can encode emotional content. 

Music is a language, but it's much more non-verbal than verbal. For me, when we talk about musicality, we're talking about how music and music makers can suggest to us everything from a marching army to a flirtatious wink, from the movements and gestures of someone deeply sad to the movements and gestures of someone exuberantly joyous. Sometimes emotionally evocative gestures are partly embedded in the physical playing of an instrument, like the harp. More often the gestural communication is in the music itself and is brought out by how it's played. Years ago I came up with the notion that, at least in part, music is gesture made audible, and the neuroscience seems to be suggesting that's the case.

Here are two excerpts from the article mentioned in a previous post. The first talks about mirror neurons and the second alludes to what I've mentioned before, how in the brain it seems almost every function is mediated by others, and nothing is particularly straight forward.

As they expected, the areas of the brain that manage emotions, like the amygdala, lit up for all subjects when the researchers played the expressive version. But, contrary to their expectations, those areas, instead of continuously fluctuating in response to changes in the music, remained relatively constant.

What surprised the scientists was the part of the brain that actually did vary: the mirror neuron system.

Large explained that when we see someone doing something, our mirror neuron system attempts to replicate the same condition in our own mind. This enables us to empathize with someone else on a very fundamental level.

The discovery that mirror neurons are involved in hearing music shows that when we listen to music, the same cells that are active in motor actions are part of the response to the music. . . 

. . . Heather Chapin, a doctoral student at the time the study was done who ran the experiments, commented on the difficulty of trying to understand the workings of the brain from the outside: "I'm a black and white kind of girl, and human neuroimaging was much more gray than I was prepared to handle.". . .

No comments:

Post a Comment