Music in the Brain: Scientists Finally Reveal the Parts of Our Brain That Are Dedicated to Music

The late neu­rol­o­gist and writer Oliv­er Sacks had a big hit back in 2007 with his book Musi­cophil­ia: Tales of Music and the Brain, address­ing as it did from Sacks’ unquench­ably brain- and music-curi­ous per­spec­tive a con­nec­tion almost all of us feel instinc­tive­ly. We know we love music, and we know that love must have some­thing to do with how our brains work, but for most of human his­to­ry we haven’t had many cred­i­ble expla­na­tions for what’s going on. But sci­ence has dis­cov­ered more about the rela­tion­ship between music and the brain, and we’ve post­ed about some of those fas­ci­nat­ing dis­cov­er­ies as they come out. (Have a look at all the relat­ed posts below.)

But now, a study from MIT’s McGov­ern Insti­tute for Brain Research has revealed exact­ly which parts of our brains respond specif­i­cal­ly to music. They’ve put out a brief video of this research, which you can watch above, explain­ing their process, which involved putting sub­jects into an MRI and play­ing them var­i­ous sounds, then study­ing how their brains respond­ed dif­fer­ent­ly to music than to, say, the spo­ken word or a flush­ing toi­let. Not look­ing to test any hypoth­e­sis in par­tic­u­lar, the research team found “strik­ing selec­tiv­i­ty” in which regions of the brain lit up, in their spe­cial­ly designed ana­lyt­i­cal mod­el, in response to music.

“Why do we have music?” asks the McGov­ern Insti­tute’s Dr. Nan­cy Kan­wish­er in a New York Times arti­cle on the research by Natal­ie Ang­i­er. “Why do we enjoy it so much and want to dance when we hear it? How ear­ly in devel­op­ment can we see this sen­si­tiv­i­ty to music, and is it tun­able with expe­ri­ence? These are the real­ly cool first-order ques­tions we can begin to address.” The piece also quotes Josef Rauscheck­er, direc­tor of the Lab­o­ra­to­ry of Inte­gra­tive Neu­ro­science and Cog­ni­tion at George­town Uni­ver­si­ty, cit­ing “the­o­ries that music is old­er than speech or lan­guage,” and that “some even argue that speech evolved from music,” which “works as a group cohe­sive. Music-mak­ing with oth­er peo­ple in your tribe is a very ancient, human thing to do.” Which all, of course, goes to sup­port the bold hypoth­e­sis put forth by the late Tow­er Records: No Music, No Life.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Neu­ro­science of Bass: New Study Explains Why Bass Instru­ments Are Fun­da­men­tal to Music

The Neu­ro­science of Drum­ming: Researchers Dis­cov­er the Secrets of Drum­ming & The Human Brain

Play­ing an Instru­ment Is a Great Work­out For Your Brain: New Ani­ma­tion Explains Why

New Research Shows How Music Lessons Dur­ing Child­hood Ben­e­fit the Brain for a Life­time

Why We Love Rep­e­ti­tion in Music: Explained in a New TED-Ed Ani­ma­tion

This is Your Brain on Jazz Impro­vi­sa­tion: The Neu­ro­science of Cre­ativ­i­ty

Free Online Psy­chol­o­gy & Neu­ro­science Cours­es

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, the video series The City in Cin­e­ma, the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Ange­les Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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  • Samir says:

    Samir Bhak­ta ,
    MO 63005

    Every­one hears dif­fer­ent­ly because every­one’s brain process­es sound dif­fer­ent­ly .
    As the fol­low­ing song (a pop­u­lar form of audio will demon­strate )
    For most  of us the left ear and the right ear have dif­fer­ent char­ac­ter­is­tics (e.g. I like the song more with the left chan­nel delay) You may inter­change the head­phones cups i.e. that is place the left cup over your right ear and sim­i­lar­ly for right cup to enjoy the song bet­ter.
    The vocals includ­ing the main vocal when placed to be heard by left and right ear and sep­a­rat­ed by an opti­mum dif­fer­ence (as is done here ) I and some oth­ers feel that the audio is enlivened when heard through head­phones. But only about 5 % appx. of the 95 per­sons test­ed could expe­ri­ence the effect in Song B and for most of the songs. Song B is an exam­ple of mod­i­fi­ca­tion of the fre­quen­cies of left and right chan­nels.

    Some oth­ers anoth­er 15 % (of those test­ed, all Indians)hear the same good effect  some­what dif­fer­ent­ly when heard with head­phones. They say that the sound is bet­ter in song B than of the orig­i­nal in song A.
    Some oth­ers hear the good effect
    with­out using the head­phones when heard on TV , an auto­mo­bile in short on a speak­er sys­tem where the speak­ers are kept sep­a­rat­ed .

    A: any orig­i­nal song
    B : the song in A select left chan­nel and increase its fre­quen­cy by appx.1 per­cent . Then select the right chan­nel and increase its fre­quen­cy by appx. 2% .

  • Sushmita Ekka says:

    Music helps me get away from real­i­ty for a lit­tle while. It soothes my mind and helps me destress myself always.

  • Luke Mike says:

    This is awe­some, every­thing you write here is true and amaz­ing. Thanks for shar­ing. Cheers!

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