Mozart Sonatas – Food for the Brain

Listening to Mozart can give your brain a boost, according to a new study. People who heard the classical composer’s music showed an increase in brain wave activity linked to memory, understanding and problem-solving, researchers found.

However, no such increases were found after the group listened to Beethoven, suggesting there is something specific about the effect of Mozart’s music on our minds, they said. The researchers, from Sapienza University of Rome, said: ‘These results may be representative of the fact that Mozart’s music is able to ‘activate’ neuronal cortical circuits (circuits of nerve cells in the brain) related to attentive and cognitive functions.’ The results were ‘not just a consequence of listening to music in general’, they added.

For the study, which was published in the journal Consciousness and Cognition, the researchers used EEG machines to record the electrical activity of the participants’ brains. The group was made up of 10 young healthy adults with an average age of 33 (referred as the Adults), 10 healthy elderly adults with an average age of 85 (known as the Elderly), and 10 elderly people with mild cognitive impairment with an average age of 77 (referred to as MCI).

Recordings were made before and after they listened to ‘L’allegro con spirito’ from the Sonata for Two Pianos in D Major K448 by Mozart, and before and after they listened to Fur Elise by Beethoven.

‘The results of our study show an increase in the alpha power and MF frequency index of background activity in both Adults and in the healthy elderly after listening to Mozart’s K448, a pattern of brain wave activity linked to intelligent quotient (IQ), memory, cognition and (having an) open mind to problem solving. ‘No changes in EEG activity were detected in both adults and in the elderly after listening to Beethoven.

‘This result confirms that the observed EEG patterns are the result of the influence of Mozart’s sonata and not just a consequence of listening to music in general.

‘The preliminary results allow us to hypothesize that Mozart’s music is able to ‘activate’ neuronal cortical circuits related to attentive and cognitive functions not only in young subjects, but also in the healthy elderly.’

The researchers suggested that the rational and highly organized arrangement of the sonata may ‘echo the organization of the cerebral cortex’ (the part of the brain responsible for high-level mental functions).

‘One of the distinctive features of Mozart’s music is the frequent repetition of the melodic line; this determines the virtual lack of ‘surprise’ elements that may distract the listener’s attention from rational listening, where each element of harmonic (and melodic) tension finds a resolution that confirms listeners’ expectations,’ they wrote. A previous study, published in 1993, found that listening to K448 could also improve spatial reasoning skills for a short time afterwards.

SOURCE: Freeman, S. (2015)

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