In a study in the latest issue of European Journal of Neuroscience, an interdisciplinary Northwestern research team says they have found biological evidence that musical training enhances an individual's ability to recognize emotion in sound.
The study found that the more years of musical experience musicians possessed and the earlier the age they began their music studies also increased their nervous systems' abilities to process emotion in sound.
A doctoral student in the Henry and Leigh Bienen School of Music, Dana Strait, primary author of the study, does research in the Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory directed by neuroscientist Nina Kraus. The laboratory has done pioneering work on the neurobiology underlying speech and music perception and learning-associated brain plasticity.
"Quickly and accurately identifying emotion in sound is a skill that translates across all arenas, whether in the predator-infested jungle or in the classroom, boardroom or bedroom," says Strait. "Scientists already know that emotion is carried less by the linguistic meaning of a word than by the way in which the sound is communicated."
The Northwestern researchers measured brainstem processing of three acoustic correlates (pitch, timing and timbre) in musicians and non-musicians to a scientifically validated emotion sound. The musicians, who learn to use all their senses to practice and perform a musical piece, were found to have "finely tuned" auditory systems.
This fine-tuning appears to lend broad perceptual advantages to musicians. "Previous research has indicated that musicians demonstrate greater sensitivity to the nuances of emotion in speech," says Ashley, who explores the link between emotion perception and musical experience. One of his recent studies indicated that musicians might even be able to sense emotion in sounds after hearing them for only 50 milliseconds.
The 30 right-handed men and women with and without music training in the European Journal of Neuroscience study were between the ages of 19 and 35. Subjects with music training were grouped using two criteria -- years of musical experience and onset age of training (before or after age 7).
Study participants were asked to watch a subtitled nature film to keep them entertained while they were hearing, through earphones, a 250-millisecond fragment of a distressed baby's cry. Sensitivity to the sound, and in particular to the more complicated part of the sound that contributes most to its emotional content, was measured through scalp electrodes.
The results were not exactly what the researchers expected. They found that musicians' brainstems lock onto the complex part of the sound known to carry more emotional elements but de-emphasize the simpler (less emotion conveying) part of the sound. This was not the case in non-musicians.
In essence, musicians more economically and more quickly focus their neural resources on the important -- in this case emotional -- aspect of sound. "That their brains respond more quickly and accurately than the brains of non-musicians is something we'd expect to translate into the perception of emotion in other settings," Strait says.
The authors of the study also note that the acoustic elements that musicians process more efficiently are the very same ones that children with language disorders, such as dyslexia and autism, have problems encoding. "It would not be a leap to suggest that children with language processing disorders may benefit from musical experience," says Kraus.
Strait, a pianist and oboe player who formerly worked as a therapist with autistic children, goes a step further. Noting that impaired emotional perception is a hallmark of autism and Asberger's syndromes, she suggests that musical training might promote emotion processing in these populations.
Kraus, Northwestern's Hugh Knowles Professor of Communication Sciences and Neurobiology; Richard Ashley, associate professor of music cognition; and Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory manager Erika Skoe co-authored the study titled "Musical Experience and Neural Efficiency: Effects of Training on Subcortical Processing of Vocal Expressions in Emotion."
The study was funded by the National Science Foundation
- PHYSICAL SCIENCES
- EARTH SCIENCES
- LIFE SCIENCES
- SOCIAL SCIENCES
Subscribe to the newsletter
Stay in touch with the scientific world!
Know Science And Want To Write?
- Kudos To "The Independent" Newspaper For Debunking Nibiru "Blood Moon" Hoax
- Your Microbiome Did Not Cause Your Weight Problem
- Gödel,Frenkel, Kurzweil, and Hawkins on AI
- A Great Blitz Game
- Free Market Validation: Men With Hair Transplants Are Seen As Younger, More Attractive
- Stopping Scars Before They Form
- Control Cancer By Making The Tumor Cell Environment Hostile
- "Its very much real mr walker and im scared to death now and i mean really really scared ..."
- "Great, glad to hear it and thanks for signing the petition :)...."
- "Well, I´m not worried anymore about nibiru, because I know is a hoax afterall and also I sign..."
- "Thanks, Skynix, glad you like the articles. Yes of course, to many readers of Science20 then what..."
- "Yes that's a good point, the Moon can look reddish just as the sun does when close to the horizon..."
- Gallup Poll: Great Example of How to Bias a Social Science Study
- Another Kardashian Craze Debunked
- Fad Friday: Ditch The Body Wrap!
- Commonly Cited Stat of 10 Bacteria for Every 1 Human Cell Is Wrong
- Why The EpiPen And Other Generic Drugs Are So Expensive
- Latest IARC Report Connects Fatness with More Cancers
- Solving a 48-year-old mystery: Scientists grow noroviruses in human intestinal cell cultures
- Scripps Florida scientists shed new light on the role of calcium in learning and memory
- Volcanic eruption masked acceleration in sea level rise
- Sunflowers move from east to west, and back, by the clock
- Earlier snowmelt reduces forests' ability to regulate atmospheric carbon dioxide