Changing Your Kids’ Brains

TIME

Melissa Locker

16 December, 2014

Actively learning to play an instrument can help a child’s academic achievement

There’s little doubt that learning to play a musical instrument is great for developing brains.

Science has shown that when children learn to play music, their brains begin to hear and process sounds that they couldn’t otherwise hear. This helps them develop “neurophysiological distinction” between certain sounds that can aid in literacy, which can translate into improved academic results for kids.

Many parents probably read the above sentence and started mentally Google-ing child music classes in their local area. But if your kid doesn’t like learning an instrument or doesn’t actively engage in the class–opting to stare at the wall or doodle in a notebook instead of participating–he or she may not be getting all the benefits of those classes anyway.

A new study from Northwestern University revealed that in order to fully reap the cognitive benefits of a music class, kids can’t just sit there and let the sound of music wash over them. They have to be actively engaged in the music and participate in the class. “Even in a group of highly motivated students, small variations in music engagement — attendance and class participation — predicted the strength of neural processing after music training,” said Nina Kraus, director of Northwestern’s Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory, in an email to TIME. She co-authored the study with Jane Hornickel, Dana L. Strait, Jessica Slater and Elaine Thompson of Northwestern University.

Additionally, the study showed that students who played instruments in class had more improved neural processing than the children who attended the music appreciation group. “We like to say that ‘making music matters,’” said Kraus. “Because it is only through the active generation and manipulation of sound that music can rewire the brain.”

Kraus, whose research appeared today in Frontiers in Psychology, continued: “Our results support the importance of active experience and meaningful engagement with sound to stimulate changes in the brain.” Active participation and meaningful engagement translate into children being highly involved in their musical training–these are the kids who had good attendance, who paid close attention in class, “and were the most on-task during their lesson,” said Kraus.

To find these results, Kraus’s team went straight to the source, hooking up strategically placed electrode wires on the students’ heads to capture the brain’s responses.

Kraus’s team at Northwestern has teamed up with The Harmony Project, a community music program serving low-income children in Los Angeles, after Harmony’s founder approached Kraus to provide scientific evidence behind the program’s success with students.

According to The Harmony Project’s website, since 2008, 93 percent of Harmony Project seniors have gone on to college, despite a dropout rate of 50 percent or more in their neighborhoods. It’s a pretty impressive achievement and the Northwestern team designed a study to explore those striking numbers. That research, published in September in the Journal of Neuroscience, showed direct evidence that music training has a biological effect on children’s developing nervous systems.

As a follow up, the team decided to test whether the level of engagement in that music training actually matters. Turns out, it really does. Researchers found that after two years, children who not only regularly attended music classes, but also actively participated in the class, showed larger improvements in how the brain processes speech and reading scores than their less-involved peers.

“It turns out that playing a musical instrument is important,” Kraus said, differentiating her group’s findings from the now- debunked myth that just listening to certain types of music improves intelligence, the so-called “Mozart effect.” “We don’t see these kinds of biological changes in people who are just listening to music, who are not playing an instrument,” said Kraus. “I like to give the analogy that you’re not going to become physically fit just by watching sports.” It’s important to engage with the sound in order to reap the benefits and see changes in the central nervous system.

As to how to keep children interested in playing instruments, that’s up to the parents. “I think parents should follow their intuitions with respect to keeping their children engaged,” said Kraus. “Find the kind of music they love, good teachers, an instrument they’ll like. Making music should be something that children enjoy and will want to keep doing for many years!”

With that in mind, it’s not too late to trade in those Minecraft Legos, Frozen paraphernalia, XBox games, and GoldieBlox presents that you may have purchased, and swap them out for music lessons for the kids in your life.

 

This article originally appeared on TIME Living section.

(http://time.com/3634995/study-kids-engaged-music-class-for-benefits-northwestern/)

 

20 Health Benefits of Listening to Music

Greatist

Scott Christ

12 December, 2013

“One good thing about music, is when it hits you, you feel no pain.”

Judging from the quote above, Bob Marley was part poet, part scientist. That’s because there’s truth to his head-bobbing lyrics from the song Trenchtown Rock. Research suggests that music not only helps us cope with pain — it can also benefit our physical and mental health in numerous other ways. Read on to learn how listening to tunes can ramp up your health.

Music can…

1. Ease pain. Music can meaningfully reduce the perceived intensity of pain, especially in geriatric care, intensive care, or palliative medicine (an area of healthcare that focuses on preventing and relieving the suffering of patients) .

2. Motivate people to bike harder. A study of healthy male college students found that, while riding stationary bicycles, the participants worked harder while listening to fast music . Extra bonus: They also enjoyed the music more.

3. Improve running motivation and performance. Here’s an easy way to beat your best time if you’re a runner: Listen to your favorite “pump-up” music. Listening to music may help people run faster, boost their workout motivation, and enhance their endurance .

4. Increase workout endurance. Listening to those top workout tracks can boost physical performance and increase endurance during a tough exercise session . This works partly through the power of distraction: When we’re focusing on a favorite album, we may not notice that we just ran an extra mile .

5. Speed up post-workout recovery. One study found that listening to music after a workout can help the body recover faster . While slow music produced a greater relaxation effect post-exercise, it seems that any kind of music can help the physical recovery process.

6. Improve sleep quality. Listening to classical music has been shown to effectively treat insomnia in college students, making it a safe, cheap alternative to sleep-inducing meds .

7. Help people eat less. One study found that playing soft music (and dimming the lights) during a meal can help people slow down while eating and ultimately consume less food in one sitting (perhaps because slowing down helps them to be more mindful of fullness cues) .

8. Enhance blood vessel function. Scientists have found that the emotions patients experience while listening to music have a healthy effect on blood vessel function. Music both made study participants feel happier and resulted in increased blood flow in their blood vessels.

9. Reduce stress. Research has found that listening to music can relieve stress by triggering biochemical stress reducers (think of these physiological processes as anti-stress ninjas) .

10. Induce a meditative state. Listening to slow musical beats can alter brainwave speed, creating brainwave activity similar to when a person is meditating or in a hypnotic state. Some research suggests that using rhythmic stimuli (such as music) to induce these states can have a therapeutic effect, easing symptoms of migraines, PMS, and even behavioral issues .

11. Relieve symptoms of depression. When you’re feeling down in the dumps, music can help pick you up (much like exercise) . Research suggests the kind of music matters: Classical and meditative sounds seem to be particularly uplifting, whereas heavy metal and techno can actually make depressive symptoms worse.

12. Elevate mood. A 2013 study found that music helped put people in a better mood and get in touch with their feelings . Study participants rated “arousal and mood regulation” and “self-awareness” as the two most important benefits of listening to music.

13. Improve cognitive performance. Background music may enhance performance on cognitive tasks . One older study found that listening to music allowed test takers to complete more questions in the time allotted, and get more answers right . More recent research suggests that whether or not music improves cognitive function depends on whether the music first improves a person’s emotional state.

14. Help people perform better in high-pressure situations. Want to sink the game-winning shot when the pressure’s on? Listen to some upbeat tunes before the big game. One study found that basketball players prone to performing poorly under pressure during games were significantly better during high-pressure free-throw shooting if they first listened to catchy, upbeat music and lyrics.

15. Reduce anxiety as much as a massage. One study found that music’s effect on anxiety levels is similar to the effect of getting a massage . Here’s an idea: Treat yourself to a massage and bring your favorite chilled out tunes to play during the session. Double the relaxation!

16. Relax patients before surgery. One study found that listening to music helped put cardiovascular surgery patients at ease as they awaited their operations . That’s a major benefit for the nearly four million people who get heart surgery each year in the U.S.

17. Ease stress after surgery. Music isn’t only helpful pre-surgery. Another study revealed that listening to music while resting in bed after open heart surgery helped relax patients and decrease their stress levels.

18. Elevate mood while driving. Listening to music while driving can positively impact mood . So when you’re feeling cranky in the car, try cranking some of your favorite tunes.

19. Help cancer patients manage stress and anxiety. Music has been found to help cancer patients communicate their feelings, manage stress, and ease physical pain and discomfort . It can also reduce anxiety and improve their quality of life.

20. Ease recovery in stroke patients. Researchers in Finland concluded that when stroke patients listened to music for two hours a day, their verbal memory and attention improved and they had a more positive mood compared to patients who didn’t listen to music or who listened to audio books .

Regardless of your taste in music, it’s clear that tunes benefit our health. The best part? Now you have an excuse for blaring Beethoven while your roommate is trying to study

This article originally appeared on Greatist.

(http://greatist.com/happiness/unexpected-health-benefits-music)

Does Music Make My Child More Empathic?

Greater Good

Stacey Kennelly

8 June, 2012

A new study suggests it does, at least when practiced in a group.

Music can make us feel nostalgic, melancholy, or energized. It can make us want to dance. And, a new study suggests, it can make us feel more connected to other people, especially when we play music together.

The study, recently published online in Psychology of Music, suggests that interacting with others through music makes us more emotionally attuned to other people, even beyond the musical setting.

Researchers at the University of Cambridge observed 28 girls and 24 boys, all between the ages of 8 and 11, from four different schools in the United Kingdom with a similar socioeconomic makeup.

Roughly half of these children were randomly assigned to a special music program that the researchers designed, where children met once a week in small groups for an entire school year to play games that encourage interaction, imitation, and “mindreading” through music. For example, in the “Mirror Match” game, the children had to repeat or match a short piece of music played by another student. In the “Improvising Rhythm” game, the children had to coordinate their playing even as the rhythm was being constantly changed.

The other half of the students also participated in weekly games that encouraged interaction and imitation, but their games were without music, using techniques like storytelling and drama instead.

Before and after participating in either of the two groups, all children in the study took an array of tests to measure their “emotional empathy,” or their ability to experience another’s emotional state as their own.

In one of these tests, children viewed a brief movie clip showing a character in an emotional scene. Each child was then shown pictures of faces expressing six different emotions, and was asked to select the expression that most closely matched his or her own feelings after viewing the clip. Children demonstrated greater emotional empathy if they selected the expression that corresponded most closely with the character’s emotion.

The children also had to say whether they agreed with 22 statements designed to measure empathy, such as “I really like to watch people open presents, even when I don’t get a present myself.”

The results show that after the school year ended, empathy increased significantly among children in the music group but not in the group that played non-musical games.

That finding was somewhat surprising to the researchers, says Tal-Chen Rabinowitch, a doctoral student at Cambridge’s Center for Music and Science and the lead author of the study.

“In a way we expected the children who participated in the control games group interaction program to also show an enhanced capacity for empathy following the program,” she says.

The increased empathy among children in the music group suggests that interacting through music may hone our general ability to share the psychological states of others.

Still, Rabinowitch says she and her co-authors are hesitant to draw any definitive conclusions from this single study, since the number of students involved was small. In their Psychology of Music paper, they write that more research, involving larger groups of students, is needed to strengthen the link between music and empathy, and to explore how long the emotional effects of group music training can last.

This research is important, they argue, because prior studies have suggested that empathy is vital to kind and cooperative behavior, and to motivating people to stand up against bullying.

“Therefore,” says Rabinowitch, “if there is a way to educate for empathy using music as an enjoyable and welcoming medium, then it is important to be aware of this and understand how it can be done.”

 

This article originally appeared in the Education segment of Greater Good, a Berkeley initiative.

(http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/does_playing_music_boost_kids_empathy)