Music may play a larger part in the field of neuroscience than it has previously been thought, and a series of lectures at the Yale School of Music aims to bring in experts in the field.
The second speaker in a series called “Music and the Brain,” Robert J. Zattore from McGill University gave a lecture Wednesday night on the results of his experiments on the relationship between music and the brain.
Zattore’s findings and opinions have been well received in his field.
“He is recognized as one of the world’s experts on music and the functioning of the brain,” said Yale Medical School professor Thomas P. Duffy, one of the coordinators of the event.
The lecture, “Understanding the Brain Via Music: Perception, Thought, and Emotion,” covered such topics as perfect pitch, musical imagery and musical pitch perception. Zattore described his experiments, which monitor brain activity while the subject performs various tasks involving music. He demonstrated his experimental techniques by having the audience mentally compare the pitches of different lyrics from “Jingle Bells.” He said these experiments help show the place music occupies in the brain.
“There really is some kind of specialization for music processing,” Zattore said.
He said people who have unusual musical abilities like perfect pitch may not have any differences in the makeup of their brains.
“They have the same circuitry, they’re just using it differently,” he said.
This type of research may have far-reaching consequences, Zattore said, describing music and the brain as “mutually revealing.”
The yearlong “Music and the Brain” series is a collaboration between the Yale Schools of Medicine and Music. Recent discoveries of potential impact of birdsong on reversing neurological disease helped to inspire the series.
Duffy said neuroscientists have always assumed that the human brain has no plasticity, but new studies show stem cells can be mobilized. He described a particular case of the birdsong study in which Hikari Oe, a mentally retarded boy, experienced some of the positive neurological effects of music.
“He was diagnosed and treated as a monster,” Duffy said. “He is now an award winning composer in Japan.”
Hikari’s father, Kenzaburo Oe , received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1994. His novel, “A Personal Matter,” tells the tale of Oe’s birth and his subsequent healing with the help of birdsong.
During his Nobel lecture, Oe described how his son first spoke at age six, when he was able to identify a certain bird by its song.
“This was the first moment my son ever uttered human words,” Oe said. “It was from then on that my wife and I began having verbal communication with our son.”
Researchers are now discovering the healing powers of birdsong for brain rehabilitation.
“Birdsong is being considered a window to the mind,” Duffy said.
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