Maybe you’ve heard of neuroplasticity before – the concept that brains can change, adapt, and learn. People often talk about how younger minds have more plasticity – it’s easier for kids to learn new things because their brains typically have more neuropathways.
We’ve known through research that music, and especially directed music therapy exercises, can aid people of any age in learning new tasks. This is most clearly illustrated when you look at the effects of music therapy interventions used in treatment for strokes and brain injuries. Music therapists have been able to help patients regain important skills like speaking and walking following these types of traumatic events.
Because of this, researchers have suspected for a long time that music encourages neuroplasticity. But there hasn’t been enough research yet that we can confidently claim it.
A new study conducted by researchers in Finland and published last year is helping us strengthen the evidence for this correlation. In the study, participants who had suffered brain injuries participated in three months of Neurologic Music Therapy interventions. Afterwards, their brains were scanned using MRI to show changes in neural connectivity in the white matter areas of their brains.
It turns out that there was a pattern in the brain areas where connectivity increased. The connection between Wernicke’s Area (language comprehension) and Broca’s area (speech production), which is called the arcuate fasciculus, presented with stronger connectivity. Another pathway, the superior longitudinal fasciculus, which is associated with attention, emotion, and memory, also showed stronger connections after music therapy treatment. Additionally, the tissue that connects the two brain hemispheres and allows for efficient communication between the left and right brain, called the corpus callosum, showed an increase in connectivity.
The researchers found a correlation between the amount of connectivity increases in each patient and the degree to which their executive function increased after treatment. This can certainly help us feel much more confident that music encourages neuroplasticity!
We are constantly learning more and more about the brain and how it is affected by music. There is still so much we don’t know about our brains! Each time researchers unlock a new secret, we can get better and better at explaining why music therapy works.
Make sure to follow along and stay up to date with us on the latest research about music and the brain.
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