Friday, March 11, 2016

Great Neuroscience Article

This article in Nautilus pulls together things in the neuroscience of music and takes us another conceptual step toward more fully understanding the ways music affects us. 

The main idea is that music can be, and usually is, a social activity, even when you're listening alone - which is a great way to think about mirror neurons and how important they are. This is the first time I've seen someone say just listening to music, without seeing it performed, can trigger mirror neurons. Given my idea that music is in part physical gesture made audible, it's great validation.

Something else that I think is helpful is the use of "pre-cognitive" in the explanation, which may be a better term than "non-conscious", a term I've used to say the same thing.

There's also a wonderful working definition of what music is. 

Here is a long snip from the article:

Music is as much a part of human evolution as language, tool-making, and cognitive development, Schulkin and Raglan tell us. It’s a bridge. “Music is typically something shared, something social; we may sing in the shower or on a solitary walk, but music is most of the time social, communicative, expressive, and oriented toward others,” Schulkin and Raglan write.

Molnar-Szakacs explains the brain’s mirror-neuron system provides the neural basis of music’s social powers. The properties of the human mirror-neuron system are based on research showing that the same regions in our brain are active when we perform, see, or hear an action. The “mirror” regions of our brains fire whether we’re playing the guitar or listening to Pete Townshend play it.

The mirror-neuron system, Molnar-Szakacs says, “allows someone to identify with another by providing an automatic, pre-cognitive mechanism by which to understand their actions by mapping them onto our own neural representations of those actions. In addition, it represents the intention behind those actions.”

The moment you hear a sequence of hierarchically organized abstract sounds we call music, a multitude of associations are activated in your brain. These can include memories, emotions, and even motor programs for playing music. Together they can imply a sense of human agency. That sensation is what sets music apart from other types of sounds. “The brain interprets the structure of the music as intentionality that is coming from a human agent,” Molnar-Szakacs says. “This, combined with all the associations evoked by the music, is what makes the experience social.”

There's more to the article, it's all interesting, and it's all worth reading.