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Learning with music stimulates the brain, says a new study

Posted July 8, 2017

Learning new skills is very satisfying, but the process can be very challenging. Doing manual tasks when you are not used to manual labour is physically taxing, but also makes your brain tired – it has to figure out new movements. A new research from the University of Edinburgh revealed that music can be a helpful tool when learning a new physical task.

Listening to music while trying to learn a new manual skill is helpful for the brain. Image credit: Kashirin Nickolai via Wikimedia(CC BY 2.0)

We tend to spend our time in front of computers, which is not always good. Many people find it refreshing to learn a new hobby, which involves some manual tasks. We rarely do things with our hands anymore. Now scientists say listening to music could actually help us learn by increasing structural connectivity between the regions of the brain that process sound and control movement. In other words, working to the beat of the music helps our brain to make more sense from the new task and is actually stimulating.

Scientists invited 30 right-handed volunteers to participate in this study. They were asked to learn a new task involving sequences of finger movements with the non-dominant, left hand. Participants were divided into two groups – one was doing the task with music cues and another one – without. Surprisingly, both groups after four weeks performed equally well at learning the sequences, but MRI scans revealed some interesting findings.

Volunteers from the group that did listen to music cues while learning the sequences showed a significant increase in structural connectivity in the white matter tract that links auditory and motor regions on the right side of the brain. Meanwhile people who did not listen to music while studying showed no such change. Dr Katie Overy, one of the authors of the study, said: “We have long known that music encourages people to move. This study provides the first experimental evidence that adding musical cues to learning new motor task can lead to changes in white matter structure in the brain”.

While it is interesting for people who are trying to learn new skills, these findings may have some medical applications too. Scientists say that in the future this study may become basis for a much larger research, aiming to help rehabilitation of patients who have lost some degree of movement control. But before that is possible, scientists are going to continue their research by conducting experiments with larger groups of volunteers.

Source: University of Edinburgh

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