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How music flows through the brain

Have you ever wondered what is going on in your brain when you listen to your favorite song? 

A new study has found that the different cognitive processes involved in listening to a song and remembering a familiar tune overlap in the brain but travel in opposite directions. 

Music has a profound impact on our moods and cognition, with new research showing that listening to music may be as effective as medication meant to ease anxiety administered before surgery and that music students score higher in math and science tests

Past research has identified the areas on the right side of the brain activated by music, but the specific processes of listening to and remembering music remained somewhat of a mystery.

In other words, it was not well understood how the brain regions activated by music responded during music listening and music recall.

Researchers from Tsinghua University in Beijing, General Hospital of People’s Liberty Army in Beijing, and Johns Hopkins University in Maryland examined neural activity in the regions of the brain activated by music to better understand these processes. 

Ten epilepsy patients, both men and women, were recruited for the study. 

The researchers used electrocorticography to record neural activity in the brain as the participants listened to popular songs like Beethoven’s “Für Elise” or Wagner’s “Wedding March.” 

As the participants listened to the songs, the researchers found that the songs correlated with cortical activity in the temporal lobe followed by the precentral gyrus. With music recall, however, electrical activity started in the inferior frontal gyrus and spread to the temporal lobe. 

Music listening in the frontal lobe lagged behind the neural pathways in the temporal lobe, but in music recall, researchers found activity in the frontal lobe preceded activity in the temporal lobe. 

Once we hear a familiar tune, the regions of the brain that remember the song overlap but music information between listening and recall flow in the opposite directions.

The researchers published their findings in the Journal of Neuroscience

By Kay Vandette, Staff Writer 

Image Credit: Shutterstock/Africa Studio

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