Music Triggering Neurogenerative Adaptations

Traditional research on musical listening and training, however, has focused mainly on structural changes, both at the level of macro- and microstructural adaptations. This has been well-documented with morphometric studies, which aimed at showing volumetric changes of target areas in the brain as the outcome of intensive musical practice. Recent contributions, however, have shown that the brain can be studied also from the viewpoint of network science.

The brain, in this view, is not to be considered as an aggregate of isolated regions, but as a dynamic system that is characterized by multiple functional interactions and communication between distinct regions of the brain. Whole-brain connectivity patterns can be studied by measuring the co-activation of separate regions. Much is to be expected from the study of resting-state networks with a special focus on the default mode network. These networks seem to be indicative of the level of cognitive functioning in general and are subject to the possibility of modulation by experience and learning, both in the developing and in the mature brain. We propose that music has the potential to alter the organization of these brain networks and enhance the connectivity of the brain, both in normal people and in those with an impaired brain. Neuroplasticity is now an established topic in music and brain studies.

Revolving around the concept of adaptation, it has been found that the brain is able to adapt its structure and function to cope with the solicitations of a challenging environment. This concept can be studied in the context of music performance studies and long-term and continued musical practice. It has been shown that some short-term plastic changes can even occur in the case of merely listening to music—without actually performing and in the short-time perspective of both listening and performing. Attentive listening to music in a real-time situation, in fact, is very demanding: it recruits multiple forms of memory, attention, semantic processing, target detection and motor function.

As such, we propose here that music represents a sort of enriched environment that invites the brain to raise its general level of conscious functioning. A major emerging topic, therefore, is the tension between neurogenerative and neurodegenerative forces with the critical question as to the possible role of music as an intervening force to develop, maintain or even restore the connectivity in brain tissue. The idea that age-related cognitive decline may be slowed, arrested or even reversed through appropriately designed training or activities, such as musical practice, is supported already by some research.

Moreover, the finding that the adult brain can undergo continual modifications highlights the potential of music intervention for inducing the plastic changes that can ultimately attenuate the impairments due to brain injury. Much more research, however, is still needed towards an integration of findings from neuroscience, education, music therapy and development.

Source: Reybrouck, M., Vuust, P. and Brattico, E. (2017)
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