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Editor’s column: Soul music

The human brain, consisting of approximately 86 billion neurons connected by around 100 trillion synapses (Herculano-Houzel, 2009), is in many aspects still a mystery.

Many questions remain unsolved, from understanding what makes up our souls and our consciousness, to how to treat complex diseases. In recent years, however, efforts and new knowledge and technologies – not least here in the Nordics – have enabled progress and provide hope that one day we will be able to cure diseases like Alzheimers.

Brain health

Brain health (neural development, plasticity, functioning and recovery over the course of a lifetime) has also become an emerging and growing concept for both scientists and individuals. One factor under investigation when it comes to brain health is the power of music. Music has been found to reduce anxiety and stress, instill comfort and to strengthen our reception of positive emotions. The right  tones may also shift or reinforce our mood and mindsets. Try turning on Bob Dylan’s Positively 4th Street when you feel irritated, Sibelius’ Valse triste when you are sad, or Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s Over the rainbow/What a wonderful world when you need to relax your shoulders and just take a deep breath.

“Ongoing research is also looking into how music can enhance brain development and academic performance, and also how music interventions could help people with conditions like schizophrenia, delirium and Parkinson’s disease.”

Music – the food of neuroscience

Research has shown that music even can reduce blood pressure and pain, improve sleep quality, memory and ability to learn. Ongoing research is also looking into how music can enhance brain development and academic performance, and also how music interventions could help people with conditions like schizophrenia, delirium and Parkinson’s disease. A recent Finnish study showed for example that by listening to vocal music, stroke patients could kick-start language recovery (Sihvonen et al., 2021). If the therapy begins shortly after the stroke occurred, the surviving neurons in the area of the stroke can form new pathways.

“It is no surprise, music has been called the food of neuroscience because of its widespread effect on the brain and its ability to induce experience-dependent neuroplasticity.”

It is no surprise, music has been called the food of neuroscience (Zatorre et al., 2005) because of its widespread effect on the brain and its ability to induce experience-dependent neuroplasticity. So when your day becomes stressful, remember to offer your brain some (comfort) food and play your favorite song!

Illustration: iStock