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Mindful : December 2014
mind science that alone, scientists led by Isabelle Peretz of the Univer- sity of Montreal discovered. But it’s in the circuitry music sha res with other brain functions that neuroscientists are discovering interesting interrelationships. When we listen to music, our auditory cortices (behind the ea rs) perceive, ana lyze, and encode basics like pitch and volume and duration. They then hand off the signal to the secondar y auditory cor- tices, which pa rse higher-or- der structure, such as melody and harmony, and also act as a gateway to musical memories: When these structures are electrically stimulated during neurosurgery, some patients hear songs as clearly as if they were wea ring earbuds con- nected to an iPod. The rich storehouse of remembered lyrics, in particular, reflects what’s called dual encoding: When melody accompa nies language, it seems to “rein- force the memory trace, ensuring higher quality of encoding and recall,” Peretz and colleagues reported in a 2014 study. One seemingly miraculous result of that dual encod- ing—think of it as indexing information under t wo entries rather tha n one—is seen in Alzheimer’s patients. For many, a melody can trigger otherwise-lost memories and help form new ones: spoken information is more likely to be remembered if it has a musical accompa niment, Peretz found. Or as McGill University neuroscientist Robert Zatorre put it, “Music has privileged access to memory.” Memory, it turns out, is the key to music’s emotional power. More than a decade ago studies showed that music considered disso- nant activated different emotion-processing brain regions than pieces consid- ered consona nt. That was “ the first evidence that listen- ing to music recruits emotion- ally relevant brain regions,” Zatorre said. But it wasn’t just emotion circuits that sprang into action when the first notes entered the brain. The regions in the prefrontal cor- tex (behind the forehead) that handle higher-order cognitive functions—such as planning and decision-making—also activated and, simulta ne- ously, so did the brain’s very primitive reward circuitry. Our brains are indeed wired, Zatorre said, so that “abstract thought and complex analy- sis” connect to “the reward regions of the brain,” allowing us to feel pleasure not only from food and sex but also from the complex aesthetics of Louis Armstrong’s What a Wonderful World. The reward circuits, which run on the neurochemical dopamine, are more complex than their hedonistic short- hand name would suggest: they predict how pleasurable an experience will be. If the experience meets the expec- tations of the reward-pre- diction circuitry, dopa mine releases and we feel pleasure. If it falls short, dopamine is AWOL and we feel edgy, anx- ious to try again (the basis for slot-machine addiction). If the experience exceeds expec- tations, the dopamine hit is even g reater and we feel like a birthday kid who got a pony instead of a sweater. Our emotional responses to music depend on a da nce between expectations and reality. The music we hea r, beginning at a young age, lays down traces in the auditory cortex. Together these traces form what Zatorre calls tem- plates, patterns of melodies and harmonics. Music we 22 mindful December 2014 UPCOMING CERTIFICATION TRAINING JAN 22-24, 2015 DURHAM, NC The Center for Koru Mindfulness trains and certifies individuals to teach the Koru Mindfulness curriculum, the only evidence-based mindfulness curriculum designed for college-age adults. TEACH MINDFULNESS TO COLLEGE- AGE ADULTS Apply today! KORUMINDFULNESS.ORG SIGN UP BY NOVEMBER 21 AND RECEIVE AN EARLY REGISTRATION DISCOUNT