1. Neuroscientists identify source of early brain activity

    November 15, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Maryland press release:

    Some expectant parents play classical music for their unborn babies, hoping to boost their children’s cognitive capacity later in life. While some research supported a link between prenatal sound exposure and improved brain function, scientists had not identified any structures responsible for this link in the developing brain.

    A new study led by University of Maryland neuroscientists is the first to identify a mechanism that could explain such an early link between sound input and cognitive function, often called the “Mozart effect.” Working with an animal model, the researchers found that a type of cell present in the brain’s primary processing area during early development, long thought to form structural scaffolding with no role in transmitting sensory information, may conduct such signals after all.

    The results, which could have implications for the early diagnosis of autism and other cognitive deficits, were published in the online early edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on November 6, 2017.

    “Previous research documented brain activity in response to sound during early developmental phases, but it was hard to determine where in the brain these signals were coming from,” said Patrick Kanold, a professor of biology at UMD and the senior author of the research paper. “Our study is the first to measure these signals in an important cell type in the brain, providing important new insights into early sensory development in mammals.”

    Working with young ferrets, Kanold and his team directly observed sound-induced nerve impulses in subplate neurons for the first time. During development, subplate neurons are among the first neurons to form in the cerebral cortex — the outer part of the mammalian brain that controls perception, memory and, in humans, higher functions such as language and abstract reasoning. Subplate neurons help guide the formation of neural circuits, in the same way that a temporary scaffolding helps a construction crew build walls and install windows on a new building.

    Much like construction scaffolding, the role of subplate neurons is thought to be temporary. Once the brain’s permanent neural circuits form, most of the subplate neurons die off and disappear. According to Kanold, researchers assumed that subplate neurons had no role in transmitting sensory information, given their temporary structural role.

    Conventional wisdom suggested that mammalian brains transmit their first sensory signals in response to sound after the thalamus fully connects to the cerebral cortex. In many mammals used for research, the connection of the thalamus and the cortex also coincides with the opening of the ear canals, which allows sounds to activate the inner ear. This coincident timing provided further support for the traditional model of when sound processing begins in the brain.

    However, researchers had struggled to reconcile this conventional model with observations of sound-induced brain activity much earlier in the developmental process. Until his group directly measured the response of subplate neurons to sound, Kanold said, the phenomenon had largely been overlooked.

    “Our work is the first to suggest that subplate neurons do more than bridge the gap between the thalamus and the cortex, forming the structure for future circuits,” Kanold said. “They form a functional scaffolding that actually processes and transmits information before other cortical circuits are activated. It is likely that subplate neurons help determine the early functional organization of the cortex in addition to structural organization.”

    By identifying a source of early sensory nerve signals, the current study could lead to new ways to diagnose autism and other cognitive deficits that emerge early in development. Early diagnosis is an important first step toward early intervention and treatment, Kanold noted.

    “Now that we know subplate neurons are transmitting sensory input, we can begin to study their functional role in development in more detail,” Kanold said. “What is the role of sensory experience at this early stage? How might defects in subplate neurons correlate with cognitive deficits and conditions like autism? There are so many new possibilities for future research.”

    Kanold’s findings are already drawing interest from researchers who study sensory development in humans. Rhodri Cusack, a professor of cognitive neuroscience at Trinity College Dublin, in Ireland, noted that the results could have implications for the care of premature infants.

    “This paper shows that our sensory systems are shaped by the environment from a very early age,” Cusack said. “In human infants, this includes the third trimester, when many preterm infants spend time in a neonatal intensive care unit. The findings are a call to action to identify enriching environments that can optimize sensory development in this vulnerable population.”


  2. Autism study examines relational factors in music therapy

    November 5, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Uni Research press release:

    Relational factors in music therapy can contribute to a positive outcome of therapy for children with autism.

    It might not surprise that good relationships create good outcomes, as meaningful relational experiences are crucial to all of us in our everyday life. However, the development of a relationship with a child with autism may be disrupted due to the level of symptoms interfering with the typical development of emotional and social abilities.

    In a new study, researchers from GAMUT, Uni Research Health and University of Bergen, could show that the quality of the therapeutic relationship predicts generalized changes in social skills in children diagnosed with an autism spectrum condition (ASC).

    This predictor study included 48 children between 4 and 7 years who received improvisational music therapy weekly over a period of 5 months. Outcomes related to the child’s social skills were measured before and after treatment. Based on session videos the researchers assessed the relationship between the child and the therapist.

    Findings of this study show a significant symptom reduction, if a relationship was developed in which the therapist was emotionally and musically attuned to the child’s expressions. Especially an improvement of communication and language skills was associated with the quality of the therapeutic relationship.

    Attunement as mechanism of change

    Attunement processes between humans are particularly described for early interactions between infants and their caregivers. It has been suggested that the caregiver’s capability to attune and synchronize to the infant’s movements, rhythms, and affects influences attachment and the development of social understanding. Within these attuned musical exchanges, the infant experiences being experienced and understood emotionally.

    – In music therapy with children with autism, therapists try to transfer principles from early interaction processes by making music that is specifically tailored to the child’s sounds, movements, postures, and affect. This should allow for moments of synchronization and attunement, Karin Mössler at Uni Research explains. Mössler is the principal investigator of the study.

    Children with childhood autism

    Focusing on musical and emotional attunement might be especially important for children with low functioning childhood autism as it might be specifically powerful when working with sensory processing, affect regulation, or deviations related to the child’s movements all of which can be crucially affected in these children. Even though the primary results of a related study investigating the effects of music therapy with children with autism, do not show that music therapy works better than other therapies, subgroup analysis identified that children with childhood autism or coexisting intellectual disability improve to a greater extend from music therapy than children with another autism diagnosis.

    Stereotypical behavior as resource

    In this sense, special focus should be given to intervention strategies fostering relationship through musical and emotional attunement. These strategies should help therapists but also parents of children with ASC to cope with the child’s symptom level by, for example, using its repetitive or stereotype movements and affective expressions as a resource and starting point for attunement.


  3. Listening to happy music may enhance divergent creativity

    September 24, 2017 by Ashley

    From the PLOS press release:

    Listening to happy music may help generate more, innovative solutions compared to listening to silence, according to a study published September 6, 2017 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Simone Ritter from Radboud University, The Netherlands and Sam Ferguson from the University of Technology Sydney, Australia.

    Creativity is an important quality in our complex, fast-changing world, as it allows us to generate innovative solutions for a wide range of problems and come up with fresh ideas. The question of what facilitates creative cognition has long been studied, and while music has previously been shown to benefit cognition, little is known about how listening to music affects creative cognition specifically.

    To investigate the effect of music on creative cognition, researchers had 155 participants complete questionnaires and split them into experimental groups. Each group listened to one of four different types of music that were categorized as calm, happy, sad, or anxious, depending on their emotional valence (positive, negative) and arousal (high, low), while one control group listened to silence. After the music started playing, participants performed various cognitive tasks that tested their divergent and convergent creative thinking. Participants who came up with the most original and useful solutions to a task scored higher in divergent creativity, while participants who came up with the single best possible solution to a task scored higher in convergent creativity.

    The researchers found that listening to happy music, which they define as classical music that is positive valence and high in arousal, facilitates more divergent creative thinking compared to silence. The authors suggest that the variables involved in the happy music condition may enhance flexibility in thinking, so that additional solutions might be considered by the participant that may not have occurred to them as readily if they were performing the task in silence.

    This study shows that creative cognition may be enhanced through music, and further research could explore how different ambient sounds might affect creativity and include participants of diverse cultures, age groups, and levels of music experience. The authors suggest that their study may also demonstrate that music listening could promote creative thinking in inexpensive and efficient ways in various scientific, educational and organizational settings.


  4. Study suggests music can alter evaluation of male faces’ attractiveness

    September 22, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Vienna press release:

    Music is a worldwide phenomenon and part of every culture, but the origin of music remains a longstanding puzzle. Why do people invest so much energy, time and money in music? Various theories have been proposed, some of which emphasize the biological and social aspects of music. For instance, Charles Darwin said, within the framework of his theory of evolution that music has developed through sexual selection. The motor and cognitive abilities necessary for making music serve as an indicator for good genes and thus increase the reproductive success. This is similar to the singing of birds in the mating season. “There are currently few empirical findings that support Darwin’s theory on the origin of music. We wanted to use a new experimental paradigm to investigate the role of music in choosing a mating partner” says Manuela Marin, the leader of the study and former associate of the Institute for Basic Psychological Research and Research Methods at the University of Vienna.

    In the current study, Marin and her colleagues investigated the impact of musical exposure on the subjective evaluations of opposite-sex faces. “Facial attractiveness is one of the most important physical characteristics that can influence the choice of a partner. We wanted to find out how music can alter the perception of this feature” says Helmut Leder from the Faculty of Psychology at the University of Vienna. Since music, especially before the advent of modern technology, has always been experienced in the here and now, and mostly in a social context, it is plausible to assume that music could positively influence the visual perception of faces. “There is some evidence in the psychological literature that so-called arousal transfer effects can occur if two stimuli are processed consecutively. The processing of the first stimulus produces internal arousal, i.e. increased physiological activity, which is then attributed to the second stimulus. This mostly unconscious mechanism can then influence our actions, in this case, the choice of a partner” explains Manuela Marin.

    In their experiment, the scientists presented heterosexual participants with instrumental musical excerpts that varied in their emotional content, followed by a photograph of a face from the opposite sex with a neutral facial expression. The face was assessed in terms of its attractiveness on a scale. In addition, participants were asked to rate whether they would date the person pictured. In the control condition only faces without music were presented. There were three groups of participants: women in the fertile phase of their cycle, women in the nonfertile phase of their cycle, and men. These groups were similar in their musical preferences and musical training, as well as in their mood before the experiment and in their relationship status. The results showed that female participants rated the male faces as more attractive and were more willing to date the men pictured when previously exposed to music. The fertility cycle did not have a large influence on the ratings. Overall, highly stimulating and complex music led to the greatest effect compared to the control condition. This effect was not present among male participants.

    These results are promising and open up new possibilities to investigate the role of music in partner selection in connection with aspects of physical attractiveness. “Our goal is to replicate these results in a larger sample and to modify some aspects of the experiment. For example, we would like to clarify whether musical abilities and creativity can compensate partially for deficiencies in terms of physical appearance and fitness” says Bruno Gingras from the Institute of Psychology at the University of Innsbruck. Helmut Leder adds: “Our results also recall the well-known Capilano Suspension Bridge experiment of Dutton and Aaron from the early 1970s. In that case, male participants crossed either a suspension bridge or a sturdy bridge and were then interviewed by an attractive female confederate who gave them her phone number. Participants who walked over the suspension bridge were much more likely to contact her later. We are planning similar experiments with music in a social context.”

    These results could have broad implications: “There is an increasing number of empirical findings showing that music has the power to influence human behavior with regard to partner selection. But how can Darwin’s theory be reconciled with other biological and social theories on the genesis of music? Music can promote social cohesion, and it also plays a role in the mother-child relationship. Until we understand these connections, there will be a long way to go” concluded Manuela Marin.


  5. Study looks at features that make a song hit the top of the charts

    September 21, 2017 by Ashley

    From the INSEAD press release:

    People like to say that mainstream music all tends to sound similar. While this is true to an extent, an analysis of more than 26,000 songs by researchers at INSEAD and Columbia Business School shows that breakout songs — the songs that hit the very top of the charts — are those that conform to current musical preferences while infusing a modicum of individuality.

    Noah Askin, Assistant Professor of Organisational Behaviour at INSEAD, and Michael Mauskapf, Assistant Professor of Management at Columbia Business School, analysed the acoustic attributes of more than 26,000 songs that appear on Billboard’s Hot 100 from its beginning in 1958 to 2016. Data on 11 acoustic features, such as a song’s key, mode and tempo, were collected from The Echo Nest, a music intelligence and data platform now owned by Spotify. Their results were recently published in the American Sociological Review in a paper titled What Makes Popular Culture Popular? Product Features and Optimal Differentiation in Music.

    The researchers found that hitting the top of the charts involves finding the right balance between familiarity and novelty.

    “The songs that reach the highest echelons of the charts bear some similarity to other popular songs that are out at the same time, but they must be unique in certain ways in order to differentiate themselves,” said Askin. “Adele’s songs are great examples of the perfect typicality: she has been tremendously successful with that little bit of differentiation.”

    Mauskapf added, “There’s a perception in the industry that top songs can be reverse-engineered based on what audiences are more likely to listen to or buy. But our findings show that ‘hit song science’ will only get an artist so far – it’s very difficult to predict what kinds of songs other musicians will release, and when audiences will find them to be “optimally distinct.”

    Behind the Research

    The study accounted for elements that could account for a song’s chart performance, such as the artist’s previous success or the prominence of their record label. It also took into account artists’ unique characteristics (such as their star factor and style), their labels’ marketing budgets, and the prevailing competition all play a part in pop culture.

    Analysing the data with these considerations in place, the researchers devised a “typicality” score to compare the acoustic footprint of each song to that of all the songs that appeared on the charts in the year prior to its release. This score essentially captures how much a given song sounds like its peers.

    “We found that songs with a somewhat below average typicality score tended to do better on the Hot 100. To have the best chance of reaching the very top of the charts, a song needs to stand out from its competition, but not so much as to alienate listeners,” said Mauskapf.

    Predicting the Future of Pop Culture?

    The authors believe the study also has implications for popular culture more generally, as well as the success of innovations. Up to this point, scholars have established that the success of cultural products rests heavily on a variety of factors including marketing budgets, producers’ prior success, the context of the release (e.g., demand trends), and relative genre popularity. Askin and Mauskapf’s study looks at an under-researched element in this equation–how the cultural content of the product positions it for success–and finds the importance of balancing novelty and familiarity.

    “What becomes popular next is likely to be slightly differentiated from the last round of hits, leading to a constant evolution of what is popular. Popularity is a moving target, but the context always remains relevant. This is at least as much art as it is science,” said Askin.

    To learn more about the cutting-edge research at INSEAD, please visit insead.edu/news or knowledge.insead.edu.


  6. Lively tunes boost sales in crowded stores

    September 11, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Journal of Retailing at New York University press release:

    If a store is crowded, people tend to buy more if the sound system is playing a fast-paced song rather than a ballad. That’s what a team of researchers found in a field experiment across a chain of grocery convenience stores in Northern Europe.

    The researchers — Klemens M. Knoeferle of the BI Norwegian Business School in Oslo; Vilhelm Camillus Paus, of Saatchi & Saatchi in Oslo; and Alexander Vossen of the University of Siegen, in Germany — conducted a longitudinal experiment to determine whether and to what extent music played a role in influencing shoppers when stores were more or less crowded. The authors noted that customer spending tracked an inverted U-shape as stores became more crowded. They found that when stores weren’t crowded, music had little effect, but as social density increased, music with an up-tempo beat spurred spending.

    In “An Upbeat Crowd: Fast In-store Music Alleviates Negative Effects of High Social Density on Customers’ Spending,” appearing in the September issue of The Journal of Retailing, the authors describe a six-week field experiment in 2014 that tested the interaction between manipulated music tempo and measured social density. The sample included 460 small stores and recorded a total of 43,676 observations about shopping basket value (SBV) and the number of purchased items. Compared with no music, as a store became more crowded, the average SBV was roughly 8 percent greater. The authors also observed that SBV was higher due to shoppers’ buying more items rather than more expensive ones.

    Managerial implications were clear: first, the authors say, retail managers should be aware of crowding’s effect on spending patterns and find ways to control it; second, ambient music is a relatively easy tool for retailers to mitigate crowding effects; and third, the authors provide a metric for measuring when social density demands some lively tunes. In addition, when customers are few, retailers might save royalty fees by not playing music, and because fast music in crowded stores motivated customers to buy more low-priced items, managers should prepare for a run on impulse purchases.


  7. Study suggests song’s structure can be linked to its popularity

    September 7, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Frontiers press release:

    Think of your favourite pop song. Can you explain why you like it so much? It might remind you of a memorable event, or move you in a way that makes you feel happy or sad. A new study, published in the open-access journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, has uncovered a simple, measurable explanation that can determine your preference for one song over another. It has linked the harmonic structure of pop songs to their placement in the charts.

    The most popular songs tend to include relatively rare chords, that is, they typically have high harmonic surprise,” says Norberto Grzywacz, a Professor of Neuroscience and Physics, who conducted this research at Georgetown University, Washington, USA. “These songs also tend to have choruses with relatively low harmonic surprise preceded by sections with many rare chords.”

    Harmonic surprise can be described as where the music deviates from the listeners expectations. Scientists have predicted that these changes in structure could elicit a pleasurable reward response in the brain. In other words, harmonic surprise can increase the likelihood a song will be a hit.

    Professor Grzywacz explains, “When listening to music, we enjoy some pieces and dislike others. Multiple reasons govern how much we like a piece of music, including compositional, emotional and cultural. We evaluated the role of a compositional element — the harmonic surprise. Surprise is important because it is a measure of new information; something that the reward centers of the brain recognise as being of value, leading to a positive emotional response. Therefore, our finding that the most popular songs tend to include surprising chords reflects our brains in-built preference.”

    It is not just the surprise element of a song that the brain deems as pleasurable, but the return to normality too.

    “The brain enjoys surprise only up to a point, because unexpected events indicate a failure of prediction,” says Professor Grzywacz. “Hence, the release of tension from surprising sections of a song to common choruses is also signalled positively by the reward centers. Our research reveals that the brain has a deep-rooted preference, which can affect whether people enjoy a piece of music.”

    The study analyzed chord-by-chord transcriptions of the harmonies of 545 songs that entered the American Billboard Hot 100 charts between 1958 and 1991. Professor Grzywacz and his colleagues measured how far the chords of the song deviated from what was expected. For example, C major is usually followed by G and F major in Western tonal music and a change from this would be classed as a surprise. These measures of surprise were compared throughout the entire song and between song sections.

    “We then used the peak position of the song in the weekly Billboard Hot 100 chart to determine its popularity,” says Professor Grzywacz.

    It revealed that verses, not the choruses or bridges, accounted for much of the difference in harmonic surprise between the most and least popular songs in the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Professor Grzywacz and his colleagues suggest that high surprises in the harmony of a song, as well as high surprises followed by a lower-surprise section, can both contribute to the enjoyment of an unfamiliar piece of music.

    Professor Grzywacz details where the research is heading next, “Our group is taking this line of inquiry in many directions. We are assessing whether harmonic surprise has a historical memory; does a song released in 1980 have to be surprising relative to songs released in that year, or to songs released in previous years — 1979, 1978, 1977, …or 1950…? We have a theory that chords from past music matter for surprise in new songs. For example, imagine that someone today composes a piece of music like Mozart. They would not be deemed a creative genius, even if the composition was excellent.”

    The group also hopes to measure the effect of harmonic surprise — how big it needs to be to make a song popular. “We’ve composed artificial music that have different levels of surprise and contrasts between high and low surprise sections. Volunteers will evaluate preference for these pieces of music, to assess how much these factors can affect their preference,” says Professor Grzywacz.

    He continues, “My colleagues and I are performing similar measurements and experiments with portrait paintings. Our overall goal is to use this knowledge to develop a general theory of how the brain experiences beauty in art.”


  8. What does music mean? Sign language may offer an answer

    August 28, 2017 by Ashley

    From the New York University press release:

    How do we detect the meaning of music? We may gain some insights by looking at an unlikely source, sign language, a newly released linguistic analysis concludes.

    “Musicians and music lovers intuitively know that music can convey information about an extra-musical reality,” explains author Philippe Schlenker, a senior researcher at Institut Jean-Nicod within France’s National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) and a Global Distinguished Professor at New York University. “Music does so by way of abstract musical animations that are reminiscent of iconic, or pictorial-like, components of meaning that are common in sign language, but rare in spoken language.”

    The analysis, “Outline of Music Semantics,” appears in the journal Music Perception; it is available, with sound examples, here: http://ling.auf.net/lingbuzz/002942. A longer piece that discusses the connection with iconic semantics is forthcoming in the Review of Philosophy & Psychology (“Prolegomena to Music Semantics”).

    Schlenker acknowledges that spoken language also deploys iconic meanings–for example, saying that a lecture was ‘loooong’ gives a very different impression from just saying that it was ‘long.’ However, these meanings are relatively marginal in the spoken word; by contrast, he observes, they are pervasive in sign languages, which have the same general grammatical and logical rules as do spoken languages, but also far richer iconic rules.

    Drawing inspiration from sign language iconicity, Schlenker proposes that the diverse inferences drawn on musical sources are combined by way of abstract iconic rules. Here, music can mimic a reality, creating a “fictional source” for what is perceived to be real. As an example, he points to composer Camille Saint Saëns’s “The Carnival of the Animals” (1886), which aims to capture the physical movement of tortoises.

    “When Saint Saëns wanted to evoke tortoises in ‘The Carnival of Animals,’ he not only used a radically slowed-down version of a high-energy dance, the Can-Can,” Schlenker notes. “He also introduced a dissonance to suggest that the hapless animals were tripping, an effect obtained due to the sheer instability of the jarring chord.”

    In his work, Schlenker broadly considers how we understand music–and, in doing so, how we derive meaning through the fictional sources that it creates.

    “We draw all sorts of inferences about fictional sources of the music when we are listening,” he explains. “Lower pitch is, for instance, associated with larger sound sources, a standard biological code in nature. So, a double bass will more easily evoke an elephant than a flute would. Or, if the music slows down or becomes softer, we naturally infer that a piece’s fictional source is losing energy, just as we would in our daily, real-world experiences. Similarly, a higher pitch may signify greater energy–a physical code–or greater arousal, which is a biological code.”

    Fictional sources may be animate or inanimate, Schlenker adds, and their behavior may be indicative of emotions, which play a prominent role in musical meaning.

    “More generally, it is no accident that one often signals the end of a classical piece by simultaneously playing more slowly, more softly, and with a musical movement toward more consonant chords,” he says. “These are natural ways to indicate that the fictional source is gradually losing energy and reaching greater repose.”

    In his research, Schlenker worked with composer Arthur Bonetto to create minimal modifications of well-known music snippets to understand the source of the meaning effects they produce. This analytical method of ‘minimal pairs,’ borrowed from linguistics and experimental psychology, Schlenker posits, could be applied to larger musical excerpts in the future.


  9. Learning with music can change brain structure

    July 24, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Edinburgh press release:

    Using musical cues to learn a physical task significantly develops an important part of the brain, according to a new study.

    People who practiced a basic movement task to music showed increased structural connectivity between the regions of the brain that process sound and control movement.

    The findings focus on white matter pathways — the wiring that enables brain cells to communicate with each other.

    The study could have positive implications for future research into rehabilitation for patients who have lost some degree of movement control.

    Thirty right-handed volunteers were divided into two groups and charged with learning a new task involving sequences of finger movements with the non-dominant, left hand. One group learned the task with musical cues, the other group without music.

    After four weeks of practice, both groups of volunteers performed equally well at learning the sequences, researchers at the University of Edinburgh found.

    Using MRI scans, it was found that the music group showed a significant increase in structural connectivity in the white matter tract that links auditory and motor regions on the right side of the brain. The non-music group showed no change.

    Researchers hope that future study with larger numbers of participants will examine whether music can help with special kinds of motor rehabilitation programmes, such as after a stroke.

    The interdisciplinary project brought together researchers from the University of Edinburgh’s Institute for Music in Human and Social Development, Clinical Research Imaging Centre, and Centre for Clinical Brain Sciences, and from Clinical Neuropsychology, Leiden University, The Netherlands.

    The results are published in the journal Brain & Cognition.

    Dr Katie Overy, who led the research team said: “The study suggests that music makes a key difference. We have long known that music encourages people to move. This study provides the first experimental evidence that adding musical cues to learning new motor task can lead to changes in white matter structure in the brain.”


  10. Learning with music can change brain structure

    July 21, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Edinburgh press release:

    Using musical cues to learn a physical task significantly develops an important part of the brain, according to a new study.

    People who practiced a basic movement task to music showed increased structural connectivity between the regions of the brain that process sound and control movement.

    The findings focus on white matter pathways — the wiring that enables brain cells to communicate with each other.

    The study could have positive implications for future research into rehabilitation for patients who have lost some degree of movement control.

    Thirty right-handed volunteers were divided into two groups and charged with learning a new task involving sequences of finger movements with the non-dominant, left hand. One group learned the task with musical cues, the other group without music.

    After four weeks of practice, both groups of volunteers performed equally well at learning the sequences, researchers at the University of Edinburgh found.

    Using MRI scans, it was found that the music group showed a significant increase in structural connectivity in the white matter tract that links auditory and motor regions on the right side of the brain. The non-music group showed no change.

    Researchers hope that future study with larger numbers of participants will examine whether music can help with special kinds of motor rehabilitation programmes, such as after a stroke.

    The interdisciplinary project brought together researchers from the University of Edinburgh’s Institute for Music in Human and Social Development, Clinical Research Imaging Centre, and Centre for Clinical Brain Sciences, and from Clinical Neuropsychology, Leiden University, The Netherlands.

    The results are published in the journal Brain & Cognition.

    Dr Katie Overy, who led the research team said: “The study suggests that music makes a key difference. We have long known that music encourages people to move. This study provides the first experimental evidence that adding musical cues to learning new motor task can lead to changes in white matter structure in the brain.”