|The brain thinks, the spinal cord implements: Research team identifies important control mechanisms for walking
||Even after complete spinal paralysis, the human spinal cord is able to trigger activity in the leg muscles using electrical pulses from an implanted stimulator. Now researchers have succeeded in identifying the mechanisms the spinal cord uses to control this muscle activity. These mechanisms still work even if the neural pathways from the brain are physically interrupted as the result of a spinal cord injury. This is the first time throughout the world that the spinal-cord activation patterns for walking have been decoded.
|Reasons We Don’t Reach for the Stars
||You have the talent, the energy, and the gifts to fulfill your dreams. Don’t let yourself or anyone else talk you out of going for them.
|Why We Love Music
||I still remember when I first heard the song by Peter Gabriel, “Solsbury Hill.” Something about that song—the lyrics, the melody, the unusual 7/4 time signature—gave me chills. Even now, years later, it still can make me cry.
Who among us doesn’t have a similar story about a song that touched us? Whether attending a concert, listening to the radio, or singing in the shower, there’s something about music that can fill us with emotion, from joy to sadness.
Music impacts us in ways that other sounds don’t, and for years now, scientists have been wondering why. Now they are finally beginning to find some answers. Using fMRI technology, they’re discovering why music can inspire such strong feelings and bind us so tightly to other people.
“Music affects deep emotional centers in the brain, “ says Valorie Salimpoor, a neuroscientist at McGill University who studies the brain on music. “A single sound tone is not really pleasurable in itself; but if these sounds are organized over time in some sort of arrangement, it’s amazingly powerful.”
How music makes the brain happy
How powerful? In one of her studies, she and her colleagues hooked up participants to an fMRI machine and recorded their brain activity as they listened to a favorite piece of music. During peak emotional moments in the songs identified by the listeners, dopamine was released in the nucleus accumbens, a structure deep within the older part of our human brain.
“That’s a big deal, because dopamine is released with biological rewards, like eating and sex, for example,” says Salimpoor. “It’s also released with drugs that are very powerful and addictive, like cocaine or amphetamines.”
There’s another part of the brain that seeps dopamine, specifically just before those peak emotional moments in a song: the caudate nucleus, which is involved in the anticipation of pleasure. Presumably, the anticipatory pleasure comes from familiarity with the song—you have a memory of the song you enjoyed in the past embedded in your brain, and you anticipate the high points that are coming. This pairing of anticipation and pleasure is a potent combination, one that suggests we are biologically-driven to listen to music we like.
But what happens in our brains when we like something we haven’t heard before? To find out, Salimpoor again hooked up people to fMRI machines. But this time she had participants listen to unfamiliar songs, and she gave them some money, instructing them to spend it on any music they liked.
When analyzing the brain scans of the participants, she found that when they enjoyed a new song enough to buy it, dopamine was again released in the nucleus accumbens. But, she also found increased interaction between the nucleus accumbens and higher, cortical structures of the brain involved in pattern recognition, musical memory, and emotional processing.
This finding suggested to her that when people listen to unfamiliar music, their brains process the sounds through memory circuits, searching for recognizable patterns to help them make predictions about where the song is heading. If music is too foreign-sounding, it will be hard to anticipate the song’s structure, and people won’t like it—meaning, no dopamine hit. But, if the music has some recognizable features—maybe a familiar beat or melodic structure—people will more likely be able to anticipate the song’s emotional peaks and enjoy it more. The dopamine hit comes from having their predictions confirmed—or violated slightly, in intriguing ways.
“It’s kind of like a roller coaster ride,” she says, “where you know what’s going to happen, but you can still be pleasantly surprised and enjoy it.”
Salimpoor believes this combination of anticipation and intense emotional release may explain why people love music so much, yet have such diverse tastes in music—one’s taste in music is dependent on the variety of musical sounds and patterns heard and stored in the brain over the course of a lifetime. It’s why pop songs are, well, popular—their melodic structures and rhythms are fairly predictable, even when the song is unfamiliar—and why jazz, with its complicated melodies and rhythms, is more an acquired taste. On the other hand, people tend to tire of pop music more readily than they do of jazz, for the same reason—it can become too predictable.
Her findings also explain why people can hear the same song over and over again and still enjoy it. The emotional hit off of a familiar piece of music can be so intense, in fact, that it’s easily re-stimulated even years later.
“If I asked you to tell me a memory from high school, you would be able to tell me a memory,” says Salimpoor. “But, if you listened to a piece of music from high school, you would actually feel the emotions.”
How music synchronizes brains
Ed Large, a music psychologist at the University of Connecticut, agrees that music releases powerful emotions. His studies look at how variations in the dynamics of music—slowing down or speeding up of rhythm, or softer and louder sounds within a piece, for example—resonate in the brain, affecting one’s enjoyment and emotional response.
In one study, Large and colleagues had participants listen to one of two variations on a Chopin piece: In version one, the piece was played as it normally is, with dynamic variations, while in version two, the piece was played mechanically, without these variations. When the participants listened to the two versions while hooked up to an fMRI machine, their pleasure centers lit up during dynamic moments in the version one song, but didn’t light up in version two. It was as if the song had lost its emotional resonance when it lost its dynamics, even though the “melody” was the same.
“In fact, when we debriefed the listeners after the experiment was over, they didn’t even recognize that we were playing the same piece of music,” says Large.
When playing the more dynamic version, Large also observed activity in the listener’s mirror neurons —the neurons implicated in our ability to experience internally what we observe externally. The neurons fired more slowly with slower tempos, and faster with faster tempos, suggesting that mirror neurons may play an important role in processing musical dynamics and affecting how we experience music.
“Musical rhythms can directly affect your brain rhythms, and brain rhythms are responsible for how you feel at any given moment,” says Large.
That’s why when people get together and hear the same music—such as in a concert hall—it tends to make their brains synch up in rhythmic ways, inducing a shared emotional experience, he says. Music works in much the same way language works—using a combination of sound and dynamic variations to impart a certain understanding in the listener.
“If I’m a performer and you’re a listener, and what I’m playing really moves you, I’ve basically synchronized your brain rhythm with mine,” says Large. “That’s how I communicate with you.”
Different notes for different folks
Other research on music supports Large’s theories. In one study, neuroscientists introduced different styles of songs to people and monitored brain activity. They found that music impacts many centers of the brain simultaneously; but, somewhat surprisingly, each style of music made its own pattern, with uptempo songs creating one kind of pattern, slower songs creating another, lyrical songs creating another, and so on. Even if people didn’t like the songs or didn’t have a lot of musical expertise, their brains still looked surprisingly similar to the brains of people who did.
But if our brains all synch up when we hear the same basic dynamic differences in music, why don’t we all respond with the same pleasure?
Large, like Salimpoor, says that this difference in preference is due to how our neurons are wired together, which in turn is based on our own, personal history of listening to or performing music. Rhythm is all about predictability, he says, and our predictions about music start forming from a pretty early age onward. He points to the work of Erin Hannon at the University of Nevada who found that babies as young as 8 months old already tune into the rhythms of the music from their own cultural environment.
So while activity in the nucleus accumbens may signal emotional pleasure, it doesn’t explain it, says Large. Learning does. That’s why musicians—who’ve usually been exposed to more complicated musical patterns over time—tend to have more varied musical tastes and enjoy more avant-garde musical traditions than non-musicians. Social contexts are also important, he adds, and can affect your emotional responses.
“Liking is so subjective,” he says. “Music may not sound any different to you than to someone else, but you learn to associate it with something you like and you’ll experience a pleasure response.”
Perhaps that explains why I love “Solsbury Hill” so much. Not only does its unusual rhythm intrigue me—as a musician, I still have the urge to count it out from time to time—but it reminds me of where I was when I first heard the song: sitting next to a cute guy I had a crush on in college. No doubt my anticipatory pleasure centers were firing away for a multitude of reasons.
And, luckily, now that the pleasure pathways are now deeply embedded in my brain, the song can keep on giving that sweet emotional release.
|5 Ways Couples Can Connect When They’re Super Busy
||You don’t have to be told that today’s world is a rapidly moving one. You know it. You feel it every time you start writing your to-do list or reviewing it at night, noticing that you haven’t exactly crossed everything off. “Every individual, couple, and family experiences the ramifications of...
|Coming Clean With The ADHD Laundry Conundrum
||I don’t write a help column. If you’re looking for tips & tricks, hints to a happy life, what the kids are calling “hacks” these days, you may find a few that work for you here, but that’s not my job. What is my job? Well, among other things, I...
|Resolutions for Change: What are the Chances for Success?
||Making Resolutions… The season for overindulgence is finally past. Now is the winter of our discontent with all of that intemperance, and our desire to make commensurate life changes. This year I will stop overeating and bingeing on junk food, and I will lose at least 20 pounds. This year...
|Narcissists Watch More Porn: Enter Eroticized Rage
||An intriguing new study in the Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy found that the more narcissistic people were, the more internet pornography they watched. For both men and women ranging in age from 18 to 61 years, those who watched more porn scored higher on tests of general narcissism...
|‘Everything Is Raw Material … But without Proper Preparation
||“Everything is raw material. Everything is relevant. Everything is usable. Everything feeds into my creativity. But without proper preparation, I cannot see it, retain it, and use it.” — Twyla Tharp, The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life I was so pleased to see that I made this...
|Should Your Spouse Be Your Best Friend, and Do
||In the past couple of days, the media has gotten all excited about some new research claiming to show that getting married makes people happier. You should always be suspicious of claims like that, as I’ve explained before. And, as I’ve shown in great detail, the particular research getting all...
|Feeling Out of Control? Here’s Why
||Everyone can feel out of control sometimes, but some people have more trouble than others. What is emotion regulation and how can we improve?? How healthy people learn emotional regulation We learn several different ways: observing people around us regulate, by having our feelings validated learning that it is safe to...
|Keys to Creativity: Embracing the Unknown
||Creativity is a concept surrounded by mystery and vagueness because it functions in an environment outside consciousness (for the most part); we learn from a young age to seek safety and avoid the unknown in an attempt to protect ourselves from danger and what might be lurking outside our consciousness....
|Is promiscuity always linked to abuse of some kind?
||The Internet, movies, music, and TV all busily churn out messages about love and sex, and so, like it or not, we find ourselves passively consuming many ideas, some old and worn, others gleaming and new, about how we should (or could) relate to others. Among the many sexual memes we’ve all undoubtedly encountered is [...]The post Is promiscuity always linked to abuse of some kind? appeared first on PsyPost.
|Scientists confirm two forms of female ejaculation
||Eric Hopton for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online Last year, the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) ordered over six minutes of material be cut from a pornographic movie because it depicted scenes of “female ejaculation” which, they said, doesn’t exist. Censorship in any form is always controversial, but on this occasion, the BBFC came [...]The post Scientists confirm two forms of female ejaculation appeared first on PsyPost.
|Withdrawal or expecting your lover to mind-read hurts relationships, but in different ways
||When you have a conflict with your spouse or significant other, do you withdraw like a turtle into its shell? Or perhaps you expect your partner to be a mind reader about what ticks you off? Those are two of the most common types of disengagement in relationships, and both can be harmful, but in [...]The post Withdrawal or expecting your lover to mind-read hurts relationships, but in different ways appeared first on PsyPost.
|New tool can trace and spatially map ‘mosaic’ mutations in the brain
||DNA sequences were once thought to be identical from cell to cell, but it’s increasingly understood that mutations can arise during brain development that affect only certain groups of brain cells. A technique developed at Boston Children’s Hospital allows these subtle mutation patterns to be traced and mapped spatially for the first time. This capability [...]The post New tool can trace and spatially map ‘mosaic’ mutations in the brain appeared first on PsyPost.
|Do infants judge others’ language proficiency? It depends on their own, research shows
||Monolingual infants expect others to understand only one language, an assumption not held by bilingual infants, a study by researchers at New York University and McGill University has found. “Our results not only offer insight into infants’ perception of linguistic abilities, but, more importantly, may help us better understand whom they see as good communication [...]The post Do infants judge others’ language proficiency? It depends on their own, research shows appeared first on PsyPost.
|Research identifies complex of neurons crucial to controlling attention
||Our ability to pay attention to certain things while ignoring distractions determines how good we are at a given task, whether it is driving a car or doing brain surgery. A research team at McGill University has for the first time convincingly identified a network of neurons in a particular area of the brain, the [...]The post Research identifies complex of neurons crucial to controlling attention appeared first on PsyPost.
|Research findings have implications for regenerating damaged nerve cells
||Two new studies involving the University of Colorado Boulder and the University of Queensland (UQ) in Brisbane, Australia have identified a unique molecule that not only gobbles up bad cells, but also has the ability to repair damaged nerve cells. Known as the phosphatidylserine receptor, or PSR-1, the molecule can locate and clear out apoptotic [...]The post Research findings have implications for regenerating damaged nerve cells appeared first on PsyPost.
|PTSD doubles diabetes risk in women
||Women with post-traumatic stress disorder are nearly twice as likely to develop type 2 diabetes compared with women who don’t have PTSD, according to researchers at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University and Harvard School of Public Health. The longitudinal cohort study provides the strongest evidence to date of a causal relationship [...]The post PTSD doubles diabetes risk in women appeared first on PsyPost.
|High Sensitivity, Creativity and Brain Differences
||Highly sensitive people are considered by many to be exceptionally creative as a group. Psychologist Elaine Aron even declares “I know ALL HSPs are creative, by definition.” The personality trait (technically referred to as sensory processing sensitivity, SPS) may show up in curious ways for some of us who are...