Tag Archives: Social Sciences

Learn Music, Get Smart

Training in music while still young effects changes in the brain that enhance one’s speech and sound abilities.
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Practitioners of music therapy, like most members of the listening public, vouch for the healing qualities of music. Music soothes a stressed mind, elevates the soul, and helps cope with illnesses. What if it also improves intelligence? Can we say that learning the violin or piano would make you smarter? We could debate the meaning of “intelligence”, but many neuroscientists and psychologists are now beginning to answer the question in the affirmative.

In a review paper published last week in Nature, Nina Kraus and Bharath Chandrasekaran, both of the School of Communication at Northwestern University near Chicago, claim that training in music changes the brain significantly. And that these changes would help specifically in skills like speech processing, and generally in many areas that involve the processing of sound. Musicians get better at remembering things, have better motor skills, and can also pay attention better in a sea of noise. “Music training improves auditory skills that are not exclusively related to music,” write the authors.

Music is a sophisticated art form that invokes several skills even to listen. From an auditory point of view, it has three aspects: pitch, timing and timbre. Timing is at the heart of rhythm, and timbre is involved in the quality of sound. At a deeper level, it involves a complex organisation of sound. Great musicians and highly sophisticated listeners, particularly of classical music, would often point to deep cultural facets as well.

Learning music would call into play basic skills as well higher cognitive abilities. Musical training is a complex task that involves several brain areas. At a basic level, it requires the ability to identify pitch, the frequency of a note. Even the most basic learner needs to tune the instrument first. This isn’t easy, and many people simply can’t identify the pitch of a note easily, no matter how hard they try. Good musicians need to have a great sense of timing. They also need to distinguish timbre, which actually conveys the richness of sound (while pitch is the basic frequency, timbre is the fine structure of a note). The ability to identify these three basic features needs considerable training.

A long history of training in music shows up in the brain structure. The brains of musicians show more grey matter in areas that are important for playing a specific instrument. In physiological terms, this change results in increased activation of neurons (brain cells) when exposed to sound. For example, the strength of activation when exposed to the sound of an instrument depends on the length of training on that instrument. What this shows, and Kraus and Chandrasekaran argue, is that the changes were acquired through training and are not innate differences in the brain.

Areas in the brain that get developed through musical training are involved in at least three faculties: sound processing, visual processing and motor control. This is why learning to perform music is different from listening, no matter how deep. “Listening to music does not involve motor control,” says Vinod Menon, professor at the department of psychiatry and behavioural sciences, Stanford University. Menon’s lab studies, among other things, show the brain processes music and also the similarities and differences between music and speech processing in the brain.

Language and music seem to be two different subjects, but there are many similarities between them. At a fundamental level, both involve the processing of sound. Some of the finer skills that musicians have are transferred easily to the processing of speech, which also uses attributes like pitch and timbre to convey information. “Musicians would be able to detect easily fine distinctions in speech like irony or sarcasm,” says T.S. Sridhar, professor of molecular medicine at St Johns Medical College, Bangalore. Sridhar has experience of working in auditory physiology.

This skill could translate to being able to identify emotions in speech much better than in the case of non-musicians. Musical training uses a high working memory, an ability that is extremely useful in language. It also involves paying close attention to sound, which also translates to a skill in language: the ability to listen carefully to a stream of sound amidst a sea of noise. Many experiments have shown that neurons in the brains of musicians indeed show a higher response when exposed to the sound of language when compared to non-musicians.

Since the strength of such response is dependent on the length of training, it always helps to start early. Kraus and Chandrasekaran argue that seven years is the best age to start. This in turn raises another question: can one get the benefits of musical training — in terms of translatable skills — when training in later life? Says Kraus, who is Hugh Knowles Professor of communication sciences, neurobiology and physiology and otolaryngology at Northwestern University, “There is evidence that the nervous system, and in particular the auditory system, continues to change throughout the life times of human and non-human animals. An important area for future research is to determine specifically the effects of musical experience — begun later in life — on the nervous system.”

So performers, play on, be it for your brain or your heart. As a commentary on the Nature article argues, music could be taught and learned for its own sake and not merely to improve the brain.

Source The Telegraph (Kolkata, India)

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Speak in Many Tongues

Learning more than one language as a child enhances cognitive abilities as well as reduces memory loss in old age. P. Hari reports :-

It’s a situation that is becoming increasingly common. Children grow up hearing two languages, because parents speak two different native tongues. This bothered the parents, but psychologists are becoming increasingly unanimous in their opinion: bilingualism is good for the brain. It makes you better at learning new things, gives a better memory, and even helps reduce memory loss in old age.

Studies show that children who grow up hearing two languages have better cognitive abilities. They can not only process languages better, or learn a new one better, but also learn anything new better than those who speak only one language. This much was known or at least suspected till recently. But now we are also beginning to know why: those who speak two tongues may be better at shutting down irrelevant information. “Bilinguals do better in environments that inhibit attention,” says Margaria Kaushanskaya, assistant professor, department of communicative disorders, University of Wisconsin.

For a long time, psychologists had thought that those who speak more than one language are naturally adept at learning new languages. While this has some truth, it is also known clearly that learning two tongues from the beginning makes learning a third easier. Children learn to generalise about language and transfer their ability to learning another language. “Early bilingual exposure increases executive control,” says Raymond Kelin, professor of psychology, Dalhousie University, Canada.

In experiments early this year, Kaushanskaya and her former colleague Viorica Marian at Northwestern University, Chicago, experimented with an artificial language. They asked three sets of people — those who spoke English and Chinese, English and Spanish, and only English — to learn a set of words that was in an invented language with no resemblance to any of these languages. The bilingual groups learned twice as many words as the other group, showing that they learned something deeper than just two languages.

This much seems common sense. However, the value of learning two languages goes far beyond linguistic ability. Studies at York University in Canada show that proficiency in two languages can delay dementia by about 4.1 years. This may seem a tiny amount, but actually translates to a 47 per cent reduction in prevalence. Other studies too have shown similar reductions are possible through stimulating mental activity. There are no known drugs that can produce this effect. “We have evidence that bilingualism can slow cognitive aging and postpone the onset of symptoms of dementia,” says Ellen Bialystock, distinguished research professor, department of psychology, York University. This is probably not because the bilingual brain reduces the negative physiological changes but that it learns to tolerate the negative changes better.

There is considerable interest among Canadian psychologists in bilingualism, partly because it is rapidly becoming the norm in that country. Many Canadians speak English and French. In Toronto, which is among the most cosmopolitan cities in the world, almost 60 per cent of kindergarten children come from homes where English is not spoken as the first language. Bilingualism is also common in many non-English-speaking countries, including India. However, in Europe and English speaking nations, some parents and teachers would frown on the practice, arguing that children could get confused if started too early. Current evidence, however, points to the opposite.

Scientists at the International School for Advanced Studies in Trieste, Italy, found that exposing children to two languages is beneficial even when the child is yet to speak a language. They found that infants raised with two languages show better cognitive abilities by the time they are seven months old. Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, this the first study to show that children learn to respond to two languages by the second half of the first year. And also that this response improves brain function.

Other research shows that this improved cognition stays throughout life, and could be more useful in old age. In studies at York University, bilingual adults performed consistently better than monolinguals. They performed better even in working memory trials, thus providing evidence that the advantage of bilingualism extends beyond language. Psychologists had debated for long on what is more important: early exposure to two languages or proficiency in two languages. “It is becoming clear that it is proficiency that matters,” says Kaushanskaya.

And since the world is becoming increasingly bilingual, our brains may be in better shape than ever.


Source:
The Telegraph (Kolkata, India)

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Asking for What You Want

Cocreating with the Universe :
Most people don’t always fully realize that we all have within us the ability to cocreate our lives with the universe. So many of us are taught to accept what we are given and not even to dream of anything more. But our hopes and dreams are the universe whispering to us, planting an idea of what’s possible while directing us toward the best use of our gifts. The universe truly wants to give us our hearts’ desires, but we need to be clear about what they are and ask for them.

To ask for something does not mean to beg or plead from a place of lack or unworthiness. It’s like placing an order—we don’t need to beg the salesperson for what we want or prove to them that we deserve to have it. It is their job to give us what we ask for; we only have to tell them what we want. Once we have a clear vision of what we desire, we simply step into the silent realm where all possibilities exist and let our desires be known. Whatever methods we use to become still, it is important that we find the quiet space between our thoughts.

From that still and quiet place, we can announce our intentions to the pure energy of creation. By imagining all the details from every angle, including scent, color, and how it would feel to have it, we design our dreams to our specifications. Similar to dropping a pebble into a pond, the ripples created by our thoughts travel quickly from this place of stillness, echoing out into the world to align and orchestrate all the necessary details to bring our desires into manifestation. Before leaving this wonderful space to come back to the world, release any attachment to the outcome and express gratitude. By doing this daily, we focus our thoughts and our energy while regularly mingling with the essence that makes it possible to build the life of our dreams.

Source
: Daily Om

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Allowing Others To Be

Controlling Behavior

We all know what it’s like to want to be in control. In some ways, exerting control is an important survival skill. For example, we have every right to be in control of our own bodies and our own lives. Taking control in these cases is empowering and necessary. Controlling behavior in the negative sense comes from a tendency to reach beyond our own boundaries and into the lives of others. Many people do this with the rationalization that they are helping. This can happen with parents who are still trying to force their grown children into behaving in ways that they find acceptable. It can also happen when people try to control their partners’ behavior. If you have control issues, you will see that in one or more areas of your life, you feel the need to interfere with what is happening rather than just allowing events to unfold.

Almost everyone has at least one situation or relationship in which they try to exert control. This often happens because someone’s behavior makes us uncomfortable. We may feel it makes us look bad, or it embarrasses us. For example, if your best friend tends to drink too much, you might spend an entire party just trying to prevent her from doing so. This is different from directly confronting her about the problem and allowing her to decide what she should do. Controlling behavior generally goes hand in hand with an unwillingness to be direct about what you want, as well as an inability to let go and let people live their own lives. If you are the one that is controlling, it’s probably because you literally feel as if you are out of control and it scares you. Try to pick one thing you could just let unfold without any control on your part. Examine how it made you feel both before and after, and examine why you wanted to control the situation.

It is hard sometimes to allow others to be who they are, especially if we feel we know what’s best for them and we see them making choices we wouldn’t make. However, if we are to be respectful and truly loving, we have to let people go, trusting that they will find their own way in their own time and understanding that it is their life to live. Just reminding yourself that the only life you have to live is your own is the first step to letting go.

Source: Daily Om

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