AANS Neurosurgeon | Volume 27, Number 2, 2018


How Music and Language Shape the Brain

A Northwestern University professor recently delivered a lecture regarding a new biological approach to measure an individual’s sound processing ability. “Making sense of sound is one of the most computationally complex tasks we ask our brains to do: process information in microseconds,” said the Hugh Knowles Professor of Communication Sciences. “In our lab, we investigate how our life in sound changes the brain, and how different forms of enrichment or decline influence how our brain processes sound.” To measure the brain’s response to sound, researchers played speech or music directly into the ears of study volunteers. The scientists then measured the electricity created by the brain as it translates sound through sensors attached to participants’ heads. Results from a series of studies involving thousands of participants from birth to age 90 suggest that the brain’s ability to process sound is influenced by everything from playing music and learning a new language to aging, language disorders and hearing loss. Previous studies indicate that across the lifespan, people who actively play music (as a hobby) can hear better in noise than those who don’t play music. The research also suggests that poverty and a mother’s education level can affect a child’s ability to process the essential parts of sound. To read more about this study, click here.

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