Symposium Music and Brain

An insight into the latest research, findings, practice and the current challenges in neuropsychology of music.

25th September 2021, Ljubljana, Slovenia - within SINAPSA Neuroscience Conference '21

Music is a cross-cultural phenomenon that has the power to evoke and regulate emotions. Understanding how music is perceived in the brain, how it influences emotions and cognition, has been a strong field of interest in neuroscience in the last decades. Accumulating results show convincing evidence that diverse music-based interventions can be helpful in the treatment of different clinical problems (e.g. Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, substance use disorders), as well as the promotion of healthy human development throughout the lifespan. Despite these established effects it is not widely used in healthcare practises in Slovenia. We aimed to gain insight into the extent to which music is used and what obstacles prevent it from being widely used in healthcare. The symposium ‘Music and brain’ offered an insight into the latest research, findings, practice and open challenges in different fields of expertise.

Presenters (and the corresponding titles of their talks) at the symposium were: Daniele Schoen, PhD (Aix-Marseille University): Neurology of Music and Brain, Stefan Koelsch, PhD (University of Bergen): Research towards evidence-based music interventions, Manuela Filippa, PhD (University of Geneva): Early music interventions in babies, Uroš Kovačič, MD, PhD (University of Ljubljana): Heart rate variability in relation to music genres.

Editorial board: Igor M. Ravnik, MD, Professor Uroš Kovačič, MD, PhD (chairs) and members of the editorial board Ana Kuder (GUBE), Manca Kok (GUBE), Saša Rakef Perko, M.A., (RTV SLO), Mojca Delač, M.A., (RTV SLO).

Neurology of Music and Brain

dr. Daniele Schoen, Aix-Marseille University, France

What is certain is that it allows us to interact with the world. A dynamical system perspective, with complex oscillatory dynamics visible in the cerebral rhythms, may elucidate the brain’s ability to swiftly adapt to the ever-changing environment. Nevertheless, the brain does not process the entire sensory experience, but rather the difference between the input and an internal model of the world. Our priors about the world become very important. Changing priors will change our perception of the world. Music is a good model to address the coupling between brain activity and the surrounding world. It is temporally and spectrally structured and it requires to anticipate with precision in time (rhythm) and in content (harmony) as well as to flexibility and quickly adapt to changes. In this perspective, music making, by modifying the oscillatory properties of complex neural networks, may improve the ability to anticipate, which in turn will affect other cognitive nonmusical skills.

The mother's voice, singing and speaking, as a special tool for early interventions in the NICU

Dr. Manuela Filippa, University of Geneva, Switzerland

It is now clearly established that the environment and the sensory stimuli, particularly during the perinatal period, have an impact on an infant’s development. During the last trimester of gestation, activity-dependent plasticity shapes the fetal brain, and prematurity has been shown to alter the typical developmental trajectories. In this delicate period, preventive actions aiming at modulating these developmental trajectories through activity-inducing interventions are currently underway to be tested. Our purpose is to describe the potentialities of early vocal contact and music for supporting the preterm infant’s development, and their potential beneficial effect for example on pain protection.

Scientific evidence supports a behavioral orientation of the newborn to organized sounds, such as those of voice and music, and recent neuroimaging studies further confirm full cerebral processing of music as multisensory stimuli. However, the impact of long-term effects of music exposure and early vocal contact on preterm infants’ long-term neurodevelopment needs be further investigated. Research projects are currently on the way to fill this gap in knowledge.

Heart rate variability in relation to self-selected music or music genres preselected by the researchers

dr. Uroš Kovačič, dr. med, dr. Maja Derlink, Inštitut za patološko fiziologijo, Medicinska fakulteta Univerze v Ljubljani, Zaloška 4, Ljubljana, Slovenia

Listening to music is a complex phenomenon, involving psychological, emotional and physiological responses, such as heart contractility, heart rate, heart rate variability (HRV), blood pressure and respiratory rate. HRV, variation in interbeat intervals, is a measure of autonomic nervous system (ANS) activity. Some HRV parameters can be used as an index of cardiac vagal tone. Previous studies of physiological effects elicited by different music genres show that tempo affects the arousal, whereas major/minor mode affects mood. Nevertheless, due to application of very heterogeneous musical stimuli in different studies, there is inconsistency when the effects of specific musical stimuli on ANS are being determined along with corresponding cardiovascular changes. Our aim was to measure the effects of music listening on the modulation of ANS via measurement of HRV. Healthy adult volunteers were exposed to music listening via headphones in a supine position. Each person participated in three recording sessions, with distinct protocols: 1) preselected music comprised of four different genres (classical music, baroque music, Gregorian chants and ambiental music), 2) participant self-selected music and 3) silent control. Music chosen by the participants varied greatly compared to preselected music chosen by the researchers in terms of tempo, genre and elicited arousal. Participants reported self-selected music to be more pleasant than music chosen by the researchers. Listening to music (reactivity phase) showed a trend in decreasing activity of the parasympathetic (vagal) ANS function when compared to baseline conditions (resting HRV) or when compared to control protocol (silence). Notably, HRV parameters, indicating higher parasympathetic (vagal) tonus in the recovery phase after music listening, increased significantly when compared to the reactivity phase during music listening. Music listening has future perspectives as a simple non-pharmacological method to modulate the listener’s ANS function in a clinical setting.