A study conducted in Milan with 18 newborn babies shows that they process music in a similar way to that of an educated adult.
For decades it has been demonstrated that in already trained adult brains, music is processed mainly in the right hemisphere. This may vary depending on whether the person has musical training or not, but as a general rule the right hemisphere will always be activated and will be in relation with different brain areas in order to process all the elements that make up what we call music: rhythm, pitch, timbre, structures, etc. This has given much to talk about, especially around one of the great questions of research with music: Is there music in man? To know to what extent music is learned or innate, a series of experiments had to be carried out that until a few years ago were almost impossible to perform due to the technology available and the human resources needed. I am talking about experiments that include studying the brain of a (live) baby.
Through non-invasive techniques (Magnetic Resonance Imaging, MRI) it has been possible to access the details of a group of 18 newborn babies, between 1 and 3 days old.
Taking into account the complexity that the cognitive decoding of music implies, having to break down the stimulus into multiple elements at the same time, such as rhythm, timbre, pitch, structures, intention, etc. It is surprising to see the results that have been obtained, and is that the brain of the newborn is not only able to process all these elements, but it does it in a very similar way as an adult.
The newborn Milanese babies placed in the scanner were exposed to different variations in harmony, dissonance and structure, among others. The right auditory cortex was activated giving way also to the activation of the left inferior cortex and limbic system structures. It was therefore a very similar reaction to the one that an educated adult has when listening to music.
They observed that the heart rate of the babies tended to go with the intensity of the music, i.e. with a high intensity, more charged dynamics and a higher tempo, the heart rate tended to increase, while with a low intensity the opposite happened.
But that’s not all! In the studies with babies, they also saw that a very curious thing happened, babies who were exposed to a lullaby, tended to synchronize the sucking reflex, with breathing and with vocalizations that babies make and that are also directly related to the lullaby to which they are exposed.
Also, one of the stimuli that had the greatest impact on the infant was his mother’s voice singing, which resulted in a significant activation of the temporal lobe, which is responsible for interpreting information. The temporal lobe is closely related to language as well as in part to the limbic system, helping to manage emotions such as anxiety or anger.
All this is fascinating, but what I am going to tell you now is incredible. These experiments have been done through electro encephalograms and other imaging techniques that allow us to see the different areas of the brain that are activated before the stimuli and thus interpret the result. Well, the researchers observed something: when there was an error in the lullaby, a note that should not be there, strange changes or non-consequential rhythm, the baby’s brain interpreted this in a different way, it was capturing an error.
These advances are magnificent and important for the world of music therapy and musicological research, since they open the door to a series of fields of research and therapeutic application that mix neurology, psychology and music, offering stable bases and an increasingly evident answer to the question of whether human beings are born with specifically musical abilities, important element to take care as a music therapist as myself.
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Article principal source: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2842045/