Can Listening to The Beatles Improve Your Memory? New research suggests music may stimulate the brain

Research by Psyche Loui, director of the Northeastern Music Imaging and Neural Dynamics Laboratory, sheds light on how music changes the pathways in the brain. Credit: Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

When Paul McCartney wrote “Get Back,” he never anticipated how useful or relevant the song would become for music therapists.

The song’s chorus — “Go back where you belong” — could just as easily be a therapist encouraging a dementia patient to recall a distant memory. In new research, Psyche Loui, an associate music professor, is attempting to do just that.

Published in Scientific Reports, Loui found that when older adults listened to their favorite music, including The Beatles, brain connectivity increased. Specifically, Loui and her multidisciplinary team of music therapists, neurologists, and gerontopsychiatrists discovered that music bridges the gap between the brain’s auditory system and the reward system, the area that governs motivation.

“There’s something about music that is this functional connection between the auditory and reward systems, and that’s why music is so special and able to tap into these seemingly very common cognitive functions that people with dementia who listen to music suddenly become very are busy.” said Loui, who leads the Music Imaging and Neural Dynamics Lab.

The original idea for this research came from Louis’ own experiences of making music in nursing homes. She recalled how people who couldn’t finish a sentence or thought would suddenly harmonize and sing along to a song she was playing.

“[Music] seems to engage the brain in a way that’s unlike anything else,” Loui said.

Researchers had a group of older adults, ages 54 to 89, from the Boston area listen to a playlist for one hour each day for eight weeks and then record their reaction to the music. Loui and the team scanned the participants’ brains before and after listening to measure their neurological response.

The playlists were highly personalized, containing a combination of the contestants’ self-selected songs, ranging from The Beatles to Bruce Springsteen, and a pre-selected mix of classical, pop and rock songs, and new compositions composed by Hubert Ho, an extraordinary Teaching professor, created the music in the Northeast. Participants then rated each song based on how much they liked it and how familiar it was.

“The most important lesson we learned from the music therapist was that there is no one-size-fits-all answer to what type of music works best,” Loui said.

What the researchers found was remarkable: Music essentially created an auditory canal directly to the medial prefrontal cortex, the brain’s reward center. In particular, the medial prefrontal cortex “is one of the areas that loses its activity and functional connectivity in aging adults, particularly in people with dementia,” Loui said.

Music that was both familiar and popular tended to activate the auditory and reward areas more. However, an even stronger connection between these two brain areas was created by the music chosen by the participants themselves.

“This could be the central mechanism for what changes happen in the brain when you listen to music and when you listen to music consistently, persistently, and mindfully over the course of an intervention,” Loui said.

Loui hopes this study, which is one of the first to document neurological changes from prolonged exposure to music-based intervention, could have a significant impact on an area that has been quickly gaining attention. The National Institutes of Health is currently driving initiatives centered around music therapy, and AARP’s Global Council on Brain Health recently convened a panel Loui was a member of to review evidence of music’s impact on brain health. The panel finally formulated recommendations on how people aged 50 and over can integrate music into their lives to promote mental well-being.

Music’s ability to calm older adults and people with mental illness is well documented, Loui said; What is less well known, however, is how and to what extent music can help improve memory, cognition, and executive function.

“That’s what we’re working on right now, and I think it might have something to do with the fact that music is an art that evolves over time,” Loui said. “For example, you listen to a beat and then you can tap your toes to the beat. This type of process interferes with the brain’s reward systems and cognitive systems in ways that could be beneficial for long-term cognitive functioning.”

In the future, Loui hopes to expand her study to include older adults with cognitive and neurodegenerative disorders, people who may benefit even more from the effects of music therapy.

“We’re trying to design these new therapies to take advantage of the rhythmic properties of music and the rhythmic properties of the brain,” Loui said, “and tuning neuronal populations to the acoustic signals of the music could be useful for improving cognition.” .”

What is the connection between prediction and pleasure? She scans brains to find out.

More information:
Milena Aiello Quinci et al, Longitudinal changes in auditory and reward systems after receptive music-based intervention in older adults, Scientific Reports (2022). DOI: 10.1038/s41598-022-15687-5

Provided by Northeastern University

Citation: Can Listening to The Beatles Improve Your Memory? New Research Says Music May Stimulate Brain (2022 July 19) Retrieved July 20, 2022 from

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