Sunday, March 6, 2011

Even More on the McGill study

From what I can tell, there have been more articles on that McGill study (previously posted on here and here) than any music neuroscience study to date. Here are two more articles.

This article by Dario Dieguez, Jr, PhD is great for putting the study in context. Here's the first paragraph: 

Humans experience pleasure from a variety of stimuli, including food, money, and psychoactive drugs. Such pleasures are largely made possible by a brain chemical called dopamine, which activates what is known as the mesolimbic system — a network of interconnected brain regions that mediate reward. Most often, rewarding stimuli are biologically necessary for survival (such as food), can directly stimulate activity of the mesolimbic system (such as some psychoactive drugs), or are tangible items (such as money). However, humans can experience pleasure from more abstract stimuli, such as art or music, which do not fit into any of these categories. Such stimuli have persisted across countless generations and remain important in daily life today. Interestingly, the experience of pleasure from these abstract stimuli is highly specific to cultural and personal preferences.

And here's his final paragraph. I just wish he'd said more about the "ability of music to modulate emotional states".

This study provides the first direct evidence that pleasure experienced while listening to music is associated with dopamine activity in the mesolimbic reward system. This phenomenon may be made possible by the ability of music to modulate emotional states and may help to explain why it has remained so highly valued across generations. “These findings provide neurochemical evidence that intense emotional responses to music involve ancient reward circuitry in the brain,” said Dr. Zatorre. “This study paves the way for future work to examine non-tangible rewards that humans consider rewarding for complex reasons,” he said.

The other article, which is in the Washington Post, reads like a blog post. Here's a bit from the middle of the article.

Indeed, this study fits quite neatly into the growing body of research on music therapy, which has suggests that listening to your favorite aria or pop hit can help you sleep better, lessen the pain associated with surgery or conditions including arthritis and fibromyalgia, decrease stress and improve anxiety and depression, among other health benefits.

Salimpoor stresses that her team's results go a long way toward explaining why other recent studies have shown that music and dance therapy can be incredibly effective for patients with Parkinson's disease, which is characterized by low dopamine levels.

"This is the science behind what we see all the time in practice," agrees Nancy Morgan, director of arts and humanities at the Lombardi Cancer Center at Georgetown University Hospital, which provides music therapy programs for patients. "We have musicians here who play for people who've just come out of surgery - a flautist goes up and plays for them and these patients, who are in tremendous pain, at the end of the playing, they are almost pain-free. รข€¦ (sic) Now we know that perhaps dopamine is playing a role."

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