Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Using classical music and fMRI to learn how the brain pays attention

Video: This 20-second clip of a subject's fMRI illustrates how cognitive activity increases in anticipation of the transition points between movements.

Fascinating study that opens up the door to many more studies in this area.

Researchers from Stanford's School of Medicine used fMRI, and classical baroque symphonies by William Boyce (1711-79) to study event segmentation.

Event segmentation is the brain's attempt to make sense of the continual flow of information the real world generates, and how the brain partitions information into meaningful chunks by extracting information about beginnings, endings and the boundaries between events (physorg).

From Stanford's News Release:
The research team showed that music engages the areas of the brain involved with paying attention, making predictions and updating the event in memory. Peak brain activity occurred during a short period of silence between musical movements - when seemingly nothing was happening.
Here's what they observed:
An event change - the movement transition signaled by the termination of one movement, a brief pause, followed by the initiation of a new movement - activates the first network, called the ventral fronto-temporal network. Then a second network, the dorsal fronto-parietal network, turns the spotlight of attention to the change and, upon the next event beginning, updates working memory. "The study suggests one possible adaptive evolutionary purpose of music," said Jonathan Berger, PhD, professor of music and a musician who is another co-author of the study. Music engages the brain over a period of time, he said, and the process of listening to music could be a way that the brain sharpens its ability to anticipate events and sustain attention.
Makes for a great argument that people who like to sit and stare at the wall might actually be doing a whole lot of brain processing in those moments of silence and seeming inactivity.

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