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Biology 202, Spring 2005
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Music Matters

Kara Gillich

gWithout music, life would be a mistakeh (1). Although the famous philosopher, Friedrich Nietzche, was referring to the importance of music in his personal everyday life, could he also unintentionally be commenting on the effects of music and the evolution of the human brain throughout time? Would life as we know it, and the human brain be what they are today, without the development of music? The newest wave of research is trying to solve the question of musicfs role in early development, as a tool for therapy, and as a contributing factor in the evolution of the human species.

The ever-expanding knowledge of how the brain works has been aided by the development of brain activity mapping techniques, such as magnetic resonance imaging
(2). The results of studies demonstrating the effects of music on the brain are astounding. Music has been found to affect many different parts of the brain, rather than one distinct region. This makes musicfs effects very hard to explain in terms of neurological pathways, but it does help explain why music had such a profound power over us. People have been using music for years to help with cognition, pattern recognition, and better mental health.

Music, or more generally sounds, enters the body through the outer ear and travel into the middle ear region. The middle ear region turns the sounds in vibrations that stimulate the inner ear region, or the cochlea. The spiral shaped cochlea functions to then turn these sound vibrations into nerve impulses, which can enter the brain through the auditory nerve. Sounds are actually turned into nerve impulses by the organ of Corti, located in the cochlea. The impulses travel from the inner ear until they reach auditory cortex, located near the temple region of the head
(3) . From there little is understood as to how, or why, music then affects so many other regions of the brain besides the main auditory sensory region. Part of the problem of explaining music is the fact that sounds are taken in through the ears, but recognition and responses are controlled by other sections of the brain. So in order to appreciate anything more than just random beats and rhythms, other parts of the brain need to be involved (2).
It is important to note that the ear contains mechanisms to turn external stimuli into nerve impulses, as well as the ability to respond to nerve impulses coming from the brain. So, as discussed extensively in class, signals can be created in the nervous system itself, without outside factors, as shown by neurons of inner ear hair cells
(3). This type of response explains why it is possible to get a song stuck in your head (2).
The impact of music starts when a child is still in the womb. Doctors have presented the idea that a babiesf first experience with music is a motherfs breath, heartbeat, and the steady flow of blood rushing into the placenta. This might not seem like music to grown adults, but the repetitive rhythm, and patterns, of these biological processes are imperative to the development of important neurological pathways in the developing fetus. It is believed that neurons start developing at the rapid pace of 50, 000 a second in the embryo stage, and the growth of dendrites, or neuron cell
body extensions, is aided by music stimulation
(4). Audiotapes of heartbeats and womb noise have been shown to reduce stress, and help with higher oxygenation in newborns (8). Clearly the effects of just constant a constant melodious noise can do a lot to help with development, however the study still raises questions as to why these effects are working. Children for thousands of generations have survived and thrived without excess music stimulation after birth. Little can be known about the conclusions of the study till these children grow up and can be studied in comparison to other children.

Another widely growing area of research has focused on the social implication of music and evolution. Currently there are many hypotheses as to what role music has played in our evolution. Some say that music has always existed in some form, and it aided in courtship by males to win over a female. If a male could dance/ sing/ make pleasurable music of some kind, he was considered physically fit, and therefore had ggoodh genes that would be beneficial to pass on to future generations
(5). A musician, Niccolo Paganini comments, gI am not handsome, but when women hear me play, they come crawling to my feeth (6). As Niccolo jokingly points out, even today, there exists something inherently attractive about a man who can play music, regardless of his physical appearance.

Others say that musicfs role was less involved in a Darwinian aspect, but it had a more social function. Music brought people together, in larger groups to interact and from there, higher forms of social organizations could be established. Both of these concepts still follow the idea that evolution selected for music, and therefore there must be some area of the brain responsible for its hold over us

In direct juxtaposition, Steven Pinker of Harvard, has coined the phase that music is gauditory cheesecakeh
(7)E He believes that music is not a mechanism for anything but a little pleasure, or a mere by product that occurs because of the design of the brain. In other words, music played no role in our expansion as a species. The debate continues on as more and more evidence is revealed about the brain.

Based on class discussions and my own research, I am inclined to believe that music played some role in our development. Music has had too much of an impact in our individual development as a baby, and all parts of our daily life for me to believe that musicfs power over us happened by accident. Maybe music has so much power over us because it is not controlled by one region, but it affects many regions of the brain, giving us, in a sense a mental neurological massage.

WWW sources

1. < a name=g1h>1)< a herf=> quotations page

2. < a name=g2h>2)< a herf=> Nature website

3. < a name=g3h>3)< a herf= > Bryn Mawr online resourse

4. < a name=g4h>4)< a herf=g > teaching resourse

5. < a name=g5h>5)< a herf=ghttp://www.nytimes.comh> New York Times article

6. < a name=g6h>6)< a herf=g> quotations page

7. < a name=g7h>7)
< a herf=g> Scientific American article

8. < a name=g8h>8)
< a herf=ghttp://> web article

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