Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Does music make you smarter?

The next few weeks there will be no new entries in this blog. However, I hope to see some of you on 19 January 2011 [N.B. Cancelled due to illness] when Glenn Schellenberg will give a lecture at the Cognitive Science Center Amsterdam (CSCA) of the University of Amsterdam with the title Does music make you smarter? Schellenberg will show that the available evidence indicates that music listening leads to enhanced performance on a variety of cognitive tests, but that such effects are short-term and stem from the impact of music on arousal level and mood, which, in turn, affect cognitive performance; experiences other than music listening have similar effects. However, music lessons in childhood tell a different story. They are associated with small but general and long-lasting intellectual benefits that cannot be attributed to obvious confounding variables such as family income and parents' education. The mechanisms underlying this association have yet to be determined. Other controversial issues include the direction of causation, and the reason why "real musicians" often fail to exhibit enhanced performance on measures of intelligence.

See here for more information on the lecture and location.

ResearchBlogging.orgSCHELLENBERG, E., & PERETZ, I. (2008). Music, language and cognition: unresolved issues Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 12 (2), 45-46 DOI: 10.1016/j.tics.2007.11.005

Monday, December 27, 2010

Hearing the music, honing the mind?

In addition to last weeks entry, a citation from a recent article in Scientific American:
"Music produces profound and lasting changes in the brain. Schools should add classes, not cut them." 
See full article.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Kan luisteren de hersenen beïnvloeden? [Dutch]

This week a video entry with a clip of the Dutch tv program Vrije Geluiden: Last Sunday prof. Erik Scherder (Free University Amsterdam) explained some recent research (by, e.g., Hyde et al., 2009) on the influence of music performance and music listening on brain plasticity.
The full episode can be viewed here (N.B. no subtitles).

ResearchBlogging.orgHyde, K., Lerch, J., Norton, A., Forgeard, M., Winner, E., Evans, A., & Schlaug, G. (2009). Musical Training Shapes Structural Brain Development Journal of Neuroscience, 29 (10), 3019-3025 DOI: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.5118-08.2009

Monday, December 13, 2010

What's new on music and the brain?

The Mariani Foundation for Paediatric Neurology just announced The Neurosciences and Music - IV: Learning and Memory, to be held in Edinburgh (Scotland, UK) from 9th to 12th June 2011. The conference is conceived as a continuation of the previous meetings on the relation between Music and the Neurosciences in which our Foundation participated: "The Biological Foundations of Music" (New York, 2000), "The Neurosciences and Music - I , Mutual interactions and implications of developmental functions" (Venice, 2002), "The Neurosciences and Music - II, From perception to performance" (Leipzig, 2005) and "The Neurosciences and Music - III, Disorders and plasticity". These conferences have been highly successful and have generated enormous excitement, both among established and new researchers. By providing the opportunity to present new results and exchange information, the meetings have contributed substantially to the growth of new research and collaborations in the neuroscience of music and to its visibility within the broader scientific community.

The central theme of Music and Neurosciences IV will be Learning and Memory. The conference programme will also be divided into 4 subthemes: "Infants and Children", "Adults: musicians and non musicians", "Disabilities and aging-related issues" and "Therapy and Rehabilitation". The conference will include Keynote Lectures, Symposia, Poster Sessions and a Workshop on child-oriented research design and new data acquisition and analysis techniques, to be held in the afternoon on 9th June. The conference will be of interest not only to neuroscientists, psychologists and students but also to clinical neurologists, clinical psychologists, therapists, music performers and educators as well as musicologists.

Edinburgh has been selected as a most appropriate setting because of the IMHSD - Institute for Music in Human and Social Development, established in 2005, which brings together music research, theory and practice from a wide range of disciplines, with an emphasis on learning and rehabilitation. The selected dates are immediately prior to the "Edinburgh International Film Festival" (EIFF), so delegates will have the opportunity to stay on in Edinburgh to attend this event. The EIFF was one of the world's first international film festivals, born alongside the Edinburgh International Festival in 1947, and places a longstanding emphasis upon new talent, discovery and innovation.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Are we ‘illiterate listeners’? [Part 1]

"French babies cry differently as compared to German babies. This was the conclusion from a study that was published a year ago in Current Biology (see earlier entry). Three day old German babies cry in a downward fashion, their French contemporaries showed an increasing swelling of the cry and stop abruptly.

It was a surprising observation, especially in the light of the general belief that in crying the pitch should always drop as a physiological consequence of the respiratory cycle. Apparently, babies of just a few days old can control both the dynamics and the intonation contour of their crying. Why would they do this?

The researchers interpreted it as the first steps in the development of language. In spoken French the mean intonation contour is rising (dropping at the very end of an utterance), in German the mean intonation typically exhibits a falling contour. This combined with the fact that the human auditory system is already functional in the last trimester of pregnancy made the researchers conclude that these babies picked up the intonation contours of their native language in these last months and consequently imitated them in their crying.

This observation is also surprising since the literature suggests that children only get interested in their native language roughly between six and eighteen months, when they start to imitate it in their babbling. Is it indeed the case, as stressed by these researchers (and the recent literature citing it; e.g. Elk & Hunnius, 2010), that this is unique evidence for a much earlier sensitivity to language than commonly thought? Or is there another interpretation possible?

Although the empirical results are clear, this interpretation is a typical example of what one could call a ‘language bias’: an understandable enthusiasm of linguists to interpret a range of phenomena in the real world as ‘linguistic’. One can, however, easily make the argument that this early sensitivity to intonation contour is a not a linguistic skill but a musical one.

Most linguists see the use of rhythm, dynamics, and intonation as an aid for making infants familiar with the words and sentence structures of the language of the culture in which they will be raised. Words and word divisions are emphasized through exaggerated intonation contours and varied rhythmic intervals, thereby facilitating the process of learning a specific language. These aspects are referred to as prosody, but they are actually the basic building blocks of music. Only much later in the development of a child will this ‘musical prosody’ be used, for instance in the marking, and consequently the recognition of word boundaries. But these early signs of musical skill are — and I like to stress this – not of a linguistic nature. It is the preverbal and preliterate stage of our musical listening in development."

Fragment from inaugural address De ongeletterde luisteraar (Honing, 2010).

ResearchBlogging.orgHoning, H. (2010). De ongeletterde luisteraar. Over muziekcognitie, muzikaliteit en methodologie. Amsterdam: Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW).

ResearchBlogging.orgMampe, B., Friederici, A., Christophe, A., & Wermke, K. (2009). Newborns' Cry Melody Is Shaped by Their Native Language Current Biology DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2009.09.064

 ResearchBlogging.orgElk, M. van & Hunnius, S. (2010) Het babybrein, over de ontwikkeling van de hersenen bij baby's. Amsterdam: Bert Bakker.