Today’s Solutions: March 27, 2023

Music is a magical thing. There are many proven benefits to the power of music, from its synchronizing power to create bonds with the people around you, to allowing autistic children to communicate their emotions, and even easing menopause.

What’s going on in our heads when we listen to music is an intriguing area for discovery. Recently, we reported on an interesting study discussing the neurological link between language and music. New research from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has developed our knowledge on this topic further, finding that the human brain responds specifically to music when it contains singing.

Through studying brain activity of people listening to 165 sounds, the team found a specific collection of neurons in the auditory cortex light up when music with singing is played. Interestingly, this response is not the same when processing regular speech or instrumental music.

An ingenious novel approach 

The technique of electrocorticography (ECoG) was used to precisely measure brain activity, where electrodes are implanted inside the skull. This invasive procedure normally cannot be carried out on humans, although the researchers had the ingenious idea to recruit people already with these implants for another purpose. Electrodes are commonly implanted in people with epilepsy to gain information on their seizures, so the MIT team utilized these installations in 15 willing participants.

Combining ECoG with functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the participants’ brains, allowed for extremely high resolution of the area. Sam Norman-Haignere, THE author of the paper, was the first person to combine these techniques to gain more informative results. This novel approach could be used to unlock new neurological secrets in a wide range of experiments.

What does this study tell us?

This song-specific region is thought to process features like perceived pitch and its interaction with words, before directing this information off to other parts of the brain.

Researchers hope to be able to use this information to further our understanding of the functions of the human brain, enabling medical researchers and doctors to one day treat some neurological diseases.

Source study: Current BiologyA neural population selective for song in human auditory cortex

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