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Music makes you smarter, happier

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Music energizes the soul of all humanity. It excites the brain and animates the spirit, accumulating evidence shows. That is why music is so enduring and pervasive.

"When you are listening to music (it is as if) the brain is on fire," concludes Istvan Molnar-Szakacs at the University of California.

According to Nina Kraus at Northwestern University, music has "a pervasive effect on how the nervous system gets moulded and shaped ... a transformation that comes about only with active engagement with sound."

Researchers at the Neurosciences Institute confirm that listening to music at a very young age improves spatial and temporal reasoning, and increases aptitude in mathematics, engineering and some games, such as chess.

The impact of playing a musical instrument is even more impressive.

"Playing music makes you smarter," Kraus reports.

Recent information indicates music can boost brain power and that musically-trained children have enhanced visio-spatial processing capabilities, better memories and higher overall intelligence.

Some neuroscientists call it the "Mozart effect," the collective benefits acquired through playing and/or listening to music.

Music processing is an "ensemble activity" involving many areas of brain circuitry, according to Daniel Levitin at McGill University. "It is one of the most complicated tasks we have."

Studies show that music impacts on almost every important region of the brain: prefrontal cortex, motor cortex, cerebellum, hippocampus, amygdala, sensory cortex, nucleus accumbens and auditory cortex, some of which are vital in long-term memory retention.

According to Anne Blood at Harvard University, music impacts on the brain's pleasure centres.

"Babies are born with a musical readiness that includes a basic sense of timing and rhythm, "confirmed Colwyn Trevarthen at the University of Edinburgh.

Studies at Colorado State University indicate that music is like "magic" to children.

Extensive studies by Morris Holbrook at the University of Columbia and Robert Schindler at Rutgers University confirm that "musical tastes are imprinted during critical periods of development; (people) develop a nostalgic attachment to music styles experienced in their youth."

Specific taste in music tends to freeze in early adulthood, rarely changing thereafter.

"(People) tend to form enduring preferences during a sensitive period in their lives," the researchers report. "Musical tastes are strongly related to song-specific ages (the age at the time the song was popular), peaking in late adolescence or early adulthood (23.5 years of age)."

"Music styles popular during youth generate preferences over other styles of music that tend to prevail for the rest of their lives," they explained.

That is why listening to music that was popular during one's youth can be therapeutic. Such nostalgic music can be beneficial in treating dementia, anxiety, stroke, cancer, some respiratory ailments and some types of brain injury.

Mary Rykov and colleagues confirm that music significantly boosts the self-images of children and has hugely beneficial impacts in the treatment of some hospitalized children.

Mary Jalongo at Indiana University and colleague Jean Isenberg have concluded that music "enriches" our lives from birth, in inestimable ways.

Emerging data show that sharing some kinds of music, such as hymns or anthems, tends to bond people together, and that lullabies and cradle-songs facilitate mutual attachment in children and that they comprise part of the fabric which maintains cultural integrity.

Robert Alison is zoologist based in Victoria, British Columbia.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 15, 2010 A10

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