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Doctors Agree, Music Is Good For You

Monday, December 15th, 2008

              

It’s Holiday season and music fills the air, and our hearts, and our brains, and the malls.

Maybe you want to hear Little Drummer Boy piped into Target as you do the Bounty/dish soap run.

Or maybe you don’t. As Daniel J. Levitin outlines, “Unwanted music in particular is not waterboarding, but it is a kind of torture. Don’t forget, the American military drove Manuel Noriega from his compound by blasting him 24/7 with AC/DC and Van Halen.”

We will explore music again later this week, as we talk to Dave Wish, founder and director of Little Kids Rock. Really talk to him. Our first podcast.

But music truly does make us bright and brilliant and healthy and happy. Juliet Chung’s Wall Street Journal piece, Sound Research, summarizes recent, credible science.

  • A team at Stanford University School of Medicine used functional magnetic resonance imaging to view brain activity. Listeners’ noggins showed clear differences during and after having heard 18th-century symphonies. This study, which was published last year in Neuron suggests listening to music helps sustain focus.
  • A Finnish study published in Brain (I know, we all get these publications regularly) showed that “verbal memory and focused attention improved significantly more in stroke patients who listened to their favorite music several hours daily.”
  • Good for the brain. So what about blood? Music is good for that too. Researchers at University of Maryland School of Medicine found the “diameter of the average upper-arm blood vessel expanded by 26% when subjects listened to music they had previously selected for making them feel joyful.” What does this mean? Blood vessels expand when nitric oxide is being released, good for that bad cholesterol, LDL.
  • Mood/motivation? We all know how music can lift us from the blues. Kurt Vonnegut said, “Music is, to me, proof of the existence of God.” Powerful stuff, this music.
  • A team at Brunel University in England “found that certain music deemed motivational can enhance a recreational athlete’s endurance and increase pleasure while exercising.” Hear the theme track from ‘Rocky’?  ‘Chariots of Fire’? We all do.

Now to each his own on music choice. One person will spend the extra 10 minutes on the treadmill with AC/DC on their IPod. Another person will kick it to Chopin. Someone else rocks to barum-pa-pum-pum.

Whatever works for you. But at least now there’s lots of science to prove that it does work for us all…..on many different levels.

Image thanks to Gaetan Lee

This Is Your Brain On Fun

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2008

One way to reach kids, to teach kids, is to engage their imagination, their eyes, ears and senses. Regardless of the subject matter, if children are connected, they are open to receiving incoming info.
Actually, this is true of anyone, young or old, two legs or four.

Dr. Marion Diamond, the first woman on the science faculty at Berkley elaborates in her Response of the Brain to Enrichment.

“In 1874 Charles Darwin mentioned that the brains of domestic rabbits were considerably reduced in bulk in comparison with those from the wild because, as he concluded, these animals did not exert their intellect, instincts, and senses as much as did animals in the wild. However, it was not until the 1960s, that the first controlled studies in animals demonstrated that enriching the environmental condition in which they were confined could alter both the chemistry and anatomy of the cerebral cortex and, in turn, improve the animals’ memory and learning ability.”

So if brain morphology actually changes as a result of experience, wouldn’t we want to expand and vary teaching experiences?

As educator/author, Dee Dickinson writes:

“The human brain is the most complex system on earth, yet it is too often used in schools primarily as a simple device for storage and retrieval of information.” So true, as information is poured out of one human’s mouth, the teacher, sometimes with the sole visual aid of written words, numbers, diagrams on a board. Students are then expected to absorb and repeat data, facts upon command (testing).
Dickenson says, “New neural connections that make it possible for us to learn and remember and problem-solve and create can continue to form throughout life, particularly when human beings are in environments that are positive, nurturing, stimulating and that encourage action and interaction. Such environments are opposite from dull, boring, rigid environments in which students are the passive recipients of information. Well designed arts programs provide just the kinds of environments that Diamond describes.”
Aha, the arts again. Looks like an artistic environment really does encourage children to engage their imaginations, open up to information. Wouldn’t you prefer a brain on fun?

Image courtesy of ParaScubaSailor via Flickr

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