Musics; Whether it’s the music that was playing on the radio when you met your partner or the first song your baby daughter smiled to, for many of us, music is a core part of life. And it’s no wonder there is considerable scientific evidence that foetuses experience sounds while in the womb, meaning music may affect us even before we are born.
Music can leave us with a sense of transcendental beauty or make us reach for the ear plugs. In fact, it is almost unparalleled among the arts in its ability to quickly generate an incredibly wide range of powerful emotions. But what happens in our brains and bodies when we emotionally react to music has long been a bit of a mystery. A mystery that researchers have only recently start to explore and understand.
Listening to musics
Numerous studies have shown that listening to music leads to changes in activity in core brain networks; so known to underpin our experience of emotion. These networks include the deep brain areas; such as the amygdala, cerebellum, and cingulate gyrus. But they also consist of cortical areas on the surface of the brain including the auditory cortex, posterior temporal cortex, and the prefrontal cortex.
The way in which the brain responds to music can measure by modern neural technology. For example, changes in how happy or unhappy we feel are reflect in brain activity within the prefrontal cortex. This can be measure by the electroencephalogram (EEG), which tracks and records brain-wave patterns via sensors place on the scalp. We can also measure changes in our level of excitement or fear by measuring heart rate.
The possibility of detecting and measuring physiological data that can be correlate with emotional states also opens the door for the development of new technologies for healthcare and well-being. They are interest in developing systems that can monitor activity in the brain and use this information to produce music to change how we feel.
For instance, imagine a device that can detect when you are falling into a state of depression (as evidence by, for example, anunusual spiking activity in the EEG), and use this information to trigger an algorithm that generates bespoke music to make you feel happier. This approach is likely to be effective. Indeed, recent research has shown, in a large meta-analysis of 1,810 music therapy patients, that music can reduce depression levels.
Excitement felt by listener
This work has also taught us about how music affects our emotions. For example, they identify how the tempo of music acts to not only increase the level of excitement felt by a listener; but also the amount of pleasure experience by the listener with higher tempo leading to more pleasure.
We then went on to develop a music generation system; which is capable of producing a wide range of emotions in the listener. This algorithmic composition system is able to compose music; hence in real time to target specific emotions. Our resulting brain-computer music interface is the world’s first demonstration of this technology; also has test in healthy participants and, in a small case study; so with one individual with Huntington’s disease, with good levels of success.
This system has numerous potential applications; hence including music therapy and music education. It could also aid the development of novel artistic or therapeutic systems. Our system may be a first step towards new brain-driven music therapies; so by enabling a better understanding of the relationship between our emotions and what happens in our brain as we listen to music. It also represents one of the first attempts at a new form of neural technology; so that is able to interface directly between our brain and music.