Understanding the Neuroscience of Creativity Through Music Improvisation

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:

Andrew Goldman PhD Laboratory for Intelligent Imaging and Neural Computing Department of Biomedical Engineering, Columbia University Presidential Scholar in Society and Neuroscience, Columbia University Andrew Goldman PhD
Laboratory for Intelligent Imaging and Neural Computing
Department of Biomedical Engineering, Columbia University
Presidential Scholar in Society and Neuroscience,
Columbia University 

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: Many Western musicians have difficulty improvising, despite having extensive training and experience. These musicians learn about and use similar musical structures in their playing (like chords, scales, rhythmic patterns, etc.) as experienced improvisers, but they may know about them in different ways. In other words, different musicians have different ways of knowing and learning about similar musical structures. To understand which ways of knowing facilitate the ability to improvise contributes to an understanding of how people are able to use knowledge creatively. Western music provides an important opportunity to compare these different ways of knowing because in other improvisatory domains of behavior (like speaking), it is difficult to find people who know how to do it but cannot improvise with it (e.g., if you know a language, you can very likely improvise with that language).

In order to advance our understanding of these improvisatory ways of knowing, we compared musicians with varying degrees of improvisation experience in a task that tested how they categorized musical chords. In Western music, different chords are theorized to have similar “functions.” For example, on a guitar, there are different ways to play a C chord, and you could often substitute one for the other. You might even play another chord in place of the C chord and have it sound similar, or lead to a similar subsequent harmony. Improvisers often use notation that specifies classes of chords rather than specific realizations (versions) of a chord whereas those who do not typically improvise use notation that specifies the full realization of the chord. By analogy, one chef might use a recipe that calls for “citrus” (in music, a class of musical chord) while another chef’s recipe might specifically call for “lemon” (in music, a specific realization of a functional class of chords). We tested whether improvisers categorize similar-functioning harmonies as more similar to each other than different-functioning harmonies, and compared how less experienced improvisers categorize the same harmonies.

Our task required the musicians to listen to a series of repeating harmonies (the “standard” stimuli) and pick out occasional chords that were different in any way (the “deviant” stimuli). Some deviant stimuli were different versions of the standard chord (like limes in place of lemons) and some deviant stimuli were chords with different musical functions (like bananas instead of lemons).

The more experienced improvisers were better at detecting the function deviants than the exemplar deviants whereas the less experienced improvisers showed little difference in their ability to detect the two types of deviants. In other words, because improvisers categorize the different versions of the same chord as similar, they have a relatively harder time picking out the similarly functioning harmonies. This was measured using behavioral data, and electroencephalography (EEG), which can be used to provide a neural measure of how different stimuli are perceived to be from each other.

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Highly Empathetic People Perceive Music Differently

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
“Divine Piano” by François Philipp is licensed under CC BY 2.0Zachary Wallmark, Ph.D
Assistant Professor of Musicology Directo
MuSci Lab SMU Meadows School of the Art
Music Division Dallas, TX 75275

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: Music making and listening is an intensely social behavior. Individual differences in trait empathy are associated with preferential engagement of social cognitive neural circuitry, including regions of the medial prefrontal cortex, cingulate, and insula, during the perception of socially relevant information.

In our study, we used fMRI to explore the degree to which differences in trait empathy modulate music processing in the brain.

We found that higher empathy people experience greater activation of social circuitry as well as the reward system while listening to familiar music, compared to lower empathy people.  Continue reading

How Does Hip-Hop/Rap Music Influence Molly/Ecstasy Use in African Americans?

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:

Khary Rigg, Ph.D. Assistant Professor Department of Mental Health Law & Policy University of South Florida

Dr. Rigg

Khary Rigg, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
Department of Mental Health Law & Policy
University of South Florida 

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study?

Response: Over the past two decades, the demographic profile of MDMA (ecstasy/molly) users has changed. In particular, African American MDMA use has risen in some cities. One possible explanation of this new trend is the drug’s recent popularity (as molly) in hip-hop/rap (HHR) music. Several top rappers endorse the drug as a way to have fun or get women “loose.” There are currently no studies, however, that investigate the extent to which African American MDMA users listen to. hip-hop/rap music or the influence that these pro-MDMA messages have on their use of the drug.

This study used survey and interview data to identify the extent to which hip-hop/rap music is listened to by African American MDMA users and assess the perceived influence of HHR music on their decision to begin using.

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Music Making Causes Rapid Neuroplastic Changes in Brain

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:

Bernhard Ross, Ph.D. Rotman Research Institute Baycrest Centre ON, Toronto

Dr. Ross

Bernhard Ross, Ph.D.
Rotman Research Institute
Baycrest Centre
ON, Toronto 

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: We know from previous research that brain function for hearing is more strongly developed in musicians. The effect of a musician’s long-term training leads to a neuroplastic effect where their brain has more neurons involved in auditory processing. These neurons show stronger activity during listening to sound than in non-musicians and these findings strongly encouraged us to study neuroplasticity of the adult brain. We were interested in understanding why the neuroplastic effects of training and learning are so clearly expressed in professional musicians.

The study’s main finding was that actively making sound, by playing a musical instrument, changed brain responses for listening and perception. Most importantly, neuroplastic brain changes occurred very quickly, within one hour of listening and making sound. In contrast, brain changes were observed after days in previous studies that only had participants listening to sounds.

Another finding was that brain responses to hearing a sound are different when a person produces the sound themselves compared to listening to a recorded sound or a sound made by another person. This difference demonstrates that brain networks of intention, movement planning, movement execution, and expectation are involved when making a sound. We compared playing a real instrument with pressing a button for hearing a sound and found larger changes in the brain’s response to actively playing a musical instrument than pressing a button to elicit the same sound.

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Music Reduces Need For Pain Medications After Surgery

Dr Martin Hirsch  Clinical Research Fellow Women’s Health Research Unit Queen Mary University of LondoMedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Dr Martin Hirsch
Clinical Research Fellow
Women’s Health Research Unit
Queen Mary University of London and
Dr Jenny Hole Foundation Year 1 Doctor Kettering University Hospital

Dr Jenny Hole
Foundation Year 1 Doctor
Kettering University Hospital

 

MedicalResearch: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: As doctors we see medicines being prescribed on a daily basis and the benefit but also harm that they can cause. We wanted to assess the role of non pharmaceutical interventions which can benefit patients with a low or minimal potential for harm. We all have an interest in music of different genres and we agreed that we didn’t know anybody who did not like music of one sort or another. On the basis that we all have gained pleasure from music, we wanted to see if this pleasurable experience at the time of a difficult and painful stimulus could reduce the problems encountered as people recover from surgery.

We searched all published medical literature and found 73 of the highest quality studies (randomised controlled trials) to compare and combine their findings in a meta-analysis. This technique aims to strengthen the validity by producing a combined result.

We found that using music before during or after surgery reduced pain, reduced the requirement for pain killers, reduced anxiety, and improved satisfaction.

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