Brain link between language and music found
Words and music go together so naturally that it seems obvious.
Now science confirms that both skills are linked in the brain, which could lead to better treatments for those who have suffered a stroke.
Language processing and instrumental music in the brain have been found to overlap, and new research indicates that intensive music therapy may help stroke patients regain speech, reported Saturday at the annual meeting of the American Association. for the Promotion of Science.
In addition, music education can help dyslexic or autistic children to use language more accurately. Those who have had a severe left brain stroke and cannot speak often learn to communicate by singing, said Gottfried Schlaug, an associate professor of neurology at Harvard University.
“Musical activity is a multisensory experience that activates links with various parts of the brain,” said Schlaug.
The neurologist showed a video of a patient who could only produce unintelligible sounds when he spoke, but who was able to sing the words “I’m thirsty” while another sang “happy birthday.”
“A person who has lost the ability to speak and can say that they are hungry or thirsty, or ask where the bathroom is, shows improvement,” said Schlaug, who applies so-called melodic intonation therapy.
A century ago, people were known to have lost their speech due to a stroke, but who could sing. Now tests are being done to find out if music can be used as therapy.
The studies are in people who have had a severe stroke in the left hemisphere, and therapy can be time-consuming, he cautioned.
Nina Kraus, director of the Auditory Neurology Laboratory at Northwestern University, said that musical training enhances the brain’s ability in other areas, according to recent studies.
For example, she said, a musician used to detecting sound patterns is more capable than other people of recognizing a friend’s voice in a noisy environment.
“The musical experience enhances skills that are important in everyday life,” Kraus said.
“Playing an instrument can help children better process speech in a noisy classroom and more accurately interpret nuances of language conveyed by subtle changes in the human voice,” he added.
She stressed that one often uses musical patterns when learning to speak and when talking to babies.
“The human auditory system adjusts through life experiences with sound. Music training not only benefits the processing of musical stimuli.
We have found that years of musical training also improve sound processing for language and emotions, “said Kraus.
“The same reactions that are accentuated in musicians are deficient in clinical populations such as dyslexic and autistic children,” he added.
The new brain wave studies mimic the sound patterns the individual hears, Kraus said. Be it with language or instrumental music, brain waves can be recorded and then emitted to hear the sound, a fact that she demonstrated with a series of recordings.
Aniruddh D. Patel of the San Diego Neurological Institute said that music encompasses not just highly specialized centers but large areas on both sides of the brain.
“Nouns and adjectives are very different from tones and chords and harmony, but the parts of the brain that process them overlap,” he noted.
Some scientists, including Darwin, have conjectured that musical prowess in humans could predate language, Patel said.