Brain and Music Program

Music Education and Brain Development

Over the past two decades, music training has been associated with better than average language and mathematical skills and higher IQ, while differences between musicians and nonmusicians have been found in brain areas related to hearing and movement, among others. What is the mechanism behind such differences? One important goal of our program is to understand the effects of music training on brain development, investigated in terms of psychological (emotional, cognitive, social) and actual neural functions.

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What Happens in the Brain when Children Learn?

Researchers looking at child development often use search-and-find tasks to look at the ways in which children apply what they are learning about the physical world. Tests carried out on toddlers reveal that something quite remarkable happens in child development between the ages of two and five – a stage identified by both educationalists and neuroscientists as critical to the capacity for learning.

Dr Sara Baker is a researcher into early childhood at the Faculty of Education. She is interested in the role of the brain’s prefrontal lobe in how young children learn to adapt their understanding to an ever-shifting environment. Many of her studies chart changes in children’s ways of thinking about the world. She uses longitudinal designs to examine the shape of individual children’s learning curves month by month.

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How the Brain Builds Memory Chains

Recollections of successive events physically entangle each other when brain cells store them.

Think about the first time you met your college roommate. You were probably nervous, talking a little too loudly and laughing a little too heartily. What else does that memory bring to mind? The lunch you shared later? The dorm mates you met that night? Memories beget memories, and as soon as you think of one, you think of more. Now neuroscientists are starting to figure out why.

When two events happen in short succession, they feel somehow linked to each other. It turns out that apparent link has a physical manifestation in our brains, as researchers from the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto (SickKids), the University of Toronto and Stanford University describe in this week’s Science. “Intuitively we know that there’s a structure to our memory,” says neuroscientist Paul Frankland, affiliated with both the University of Toronto and SickKids. “These experiments are starting to scratch the surface of how memories are linked in the brain.”

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This Is your Brain on Poverty

Data visualizations highlight the surprising connections between income and brain structure skills.

First, it is essential to define the problem: in what specific ways does poverty impact brain function? To address this question, Noble recruited some 150 children from various socioeconomic backgrounds and used standard psychological testing methods to evaluate their abilities in several cognitive areas associated with particular parts of the brain. As outlined in the graphs below, the relationships are clear, especially in terms of language

While the data represented above are fairly convincing, they are also incomplete. To demonstrate the physical effects of poverty on the brain, we must examine the organ itself. To this end, Noble’s lab scanned the brains of about 1,100 children and adolescents, and found clear structural differences based on family income. And remarkably, their results showed that those children falling on the poorer end of the lowest income bracket suffer exponentially severe losses in brain development.

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Read also:  This Is Your Brain On Poverty

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What your Brain does when it hears a Question

Questions hijack the brain. The moment you hear one, you literally can’t think of anything else. And that can be a powerful tool.

What color is your house?

After reading that question, what were you thinking about? The obvious answer is the color of your house. Though this exercise may seem ordinary, it has profound implications. The question momentarily hijacked your thought process and focused it entirely on your house or apartment. You didn’t consciously tell your brain to think about that; it just did so automatically.

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Creative People Have Better Connected Brains

A new study reports highly creative people appear to have more connections between their brain hemispheres.  Highly creative people have significantly more nerve connections between the right and left hemispheres. Seemingly countless self-help books and seminars tell you to tap into the right side of your brain to stimulate creativity. But forget the “right-brain” myth — a new study suggests it’s how well the two brain hemispheres communicate that sets highly creative people apart.

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The Science of Aging Well

Genetic treatments to reverse aging at the cellular level? Diets and exercises that help your mind and body function better longer? It’s not a sales pitch from a life-extension guru — it’s science.

For civilization, there’s no better time to understand aging. With roughly 10,000 baby boomers turning 65 in the U.S. every day, the “silver tsunami” is predicted to raise the national health care bill to $4 trillion in 2030. Globally, the 65-plus demographic is estimated to triple from 524 million in 2010 to about 1.5 billion by 2050. Most of us hope to live to a vigorous old age. And to help us do that, researchers are exploring ways to manage or overcome some of the most common and vexing age-related ailments. Here you’ll get a look at some of the most groundbreaking developments.

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Music as the Brain’s Universal Language

What are some of the biggest challenges of studying musical creativity from a neuroscience perspective?

It’s not just music—artistic creativity in general is one of the toughest topics to study because it’s an elusive thing. Creativity is made up of a very wide range of human activities that aren’t always so easy to connect together. By their very nature, art and creativity are expansive concepts with no real predictability. That means that it’s not really a natural fit to try to confine them to the constraints of a scientific experiment.

The other issue is that artists and scientists are very different kinds of people. For a scientist to try to design an experiment that feels natural to an artist while still maintaining scientific validity and control—well, that’s a very tenuous balance. It’s hard to design a study just right. You really need to work closely with artists to design something that will work.

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The Neuroscience of Music, Behavior, and Staying Sane in the Age of Twitter

Neuroscientist and author of This Is Your Brain On Music Daniel Levitin talks about information overload.

When it comes to music and the human brain, Daniel Levitin’s expertise is hard to top. The musician, professor, and neuroscientist quite literally wrote the book on the topic when he penned the 2006 bestseller This is Your Brain On Music. His most recent book The Organized Mind furthers his exploration into our brains with a focus on how information overload is affecting cognition and what we can do it about it. Over the last two years, he’s been working with smart speaker maker Sonos on new research into how music affects people’s minds and behavior at home. As part of its new marketing campaign centered around what the company regrettably diagnoses as “the silent home”—the relative dearth of music being played out loud as families stare into their phones or tune into Netflix—Sonos enlisted Levitin to help design a new survey of people’s listening habits at home. We sat down with Levitin at Sonos’s Boston offices last week for a conversation about science, music, the brain, and how to stay sane in the age of Trump and Twitter.

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Read also: This Is Your Brain On Music

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Scientists: There is too much focus on positive results

The scientific community’s focus on publishing positive results leaves a sizeable amount of research that is either incorrect or in some cases dangerous. If you want to form a conclusion based on an experiment, it is a basic rule in science that you include all data—both positive and negative. The same applies to the global collection of scientific knowledge that should include all scientific results, even when the results are unexpected. But this does not always happen, and a number of concerned scientists say that a large portion of research today is incorrect, which is particularly problematic and even dangerous within the health sciences, say the scientists. This problem is arguably part of a crisis within basic research, which has been described in a series of articles here on ScienceNordic. Other articles in the series include pressure on scientists to publish their results and a lack of reproducibility in science.

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