Are our brains tuned to healing frequencies?

HealthDay News recently announced a study exploring whether harmonic sounds are therapeutic for people who suffer from neurological disorders.

The power of music to aid memory, social behavior and communication in people who suffer with severe brain disorders is already accepted, but researchers are now trying to understand how music affects the human brain – how it can actually improve mental powers and interaction with others.

Past research published in The Journal of Music Therapy (The Effect of Background Music on Behavior in Alzheimer's Patients, December 1st 2007) focused on improvement of healthy cognitive and social skills, or reduction of agitation symptoms, in Alzheimer’s Patients who were played stimulative background music during which time no other structured activity was taking place. The researchers observed twenty eight participants both with and without stimulative, familiar background music. Results showed both a significant increase in positive social behaviours and a significant decrease in negative behaviours when background music was played. 

The new research, conducted using monkeys, suggests that human perception of music may have been developed through the capacity of animals to communicate with one another using vocalizations. Researchers noted that the sounds of human speech have much in common with the sounds made by animals. For example, animal vocalizations and human speech contain the same kinds of tones, which are known as "complex tones."

Georgetown University Medical Center conducted the study investigating brain activity in the auditory cortex of monkeys. Researchers found that neurons (a certain type of brain cell) were tuned to specific frequencies and harmonic sounds. 

"The understanding of neural mechanism of 'innate' music features in non-human primates will facilitate an improved understanding of music perception in the human nervous system," claimed Yuki Kikuchi, study co-author and research associate in the department of physiology and biophysics. "This will allow a neurobiological framework from which to understand the basis of the effectiveness of music therapeutic interventions."

The researchers presented their findings at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience, held Oct. 17 to 21 in Chicago. The study was funded by grants from the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

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