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The Sound Of Your Voice Could Help Doctors Diagnose Disease, Research Finds

The Sound Of Your Voice Could Help Doctors Diagnose Disease, Research Finds

In the digital age, we have become increasingly aware of our own health and the core symptoms that can be indicative of illness. This has made it far easier for people recognise when they are unwell, increasing their chances of successfully treating ailments and returning to full health over time.

A similar trend has driven preventative medicine throughout the age, as innovation and research have enabled healthcare service providers to improve diagnostics and pre-treatment options rather than focusing solely on reactive measures. This was seen during the recent outbreak of the Zika virus in South America, where a novel vaccine candidate was quickly presented to protect citizens in affected areas.

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Why the Sound of your Voice is now a key Diagnostic Tool

In terms of diagnostics, technology has also enabled doctors to improve their accuracy while determining new methods of identifying specific illnesses. Most recently, employees at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have developed an innovation that has introduced a new diagnostic metric, which is the sound of each individual patient’s voice. This hardware, which is still under development, analyses voices according to tone and the speed at which words and sentences are formed.

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By analysing various aspects of a patient’s voice, doctors are able to determine subtle vocal tics that will enable them to diagnose illnesses at a very early stage. This includes everything from mental health issues such as depression to respiratory disorders, as healthcare professionals search for time-dependent variations in pitch and subtle shifts in pace. In laymen terms, this technology builds on accepted knowledge pertaining to the links between voice patterns and certain illnesses (such as the fact that those with depression may occasionally speak with a flatter tone) to drive informed, accurate and insightful diagnostics.

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The hardware has been tested extensively across several groups of subjects, which were required to read standard, sample paragraphs. The technology breaks these statements down into individual components called phonemes, known by linguistic experts as the building blocks of language. These phonemes are then analysed using proprietary algorithms, highlighting potential issues and singling out specific symptoms. These can relate to numerous ailments, from mild traumatic brain disease to dementia and Parkinson’s disease.

Is this just the beginning for voice analysis in Diagnostics?

The research team working on this technology are not alone in their quest, with IMB currently teaming its own, Watson super-computer with academic research teams to identify potential psychological issues in subjects using speech patterns. A Berlin-based company has also worked on developing hardware that can diagnose ADHD patients with voice recordings, while apps are also being developed across the globe base on tone and speech patterns. Make no mistake; however, the research being conducted at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is at an advanced stage while the current hardware requires only a minute of speech to identify the vocal biomarkers that represent symptoms of mental and physical illness.

What is more, this may be just the tip of the iceberg for the utilisation of tone and speech patterns, particularly as the voice remains a complex and scarcely understood aspects of our physiology. With huge data sets hidden within the composition of our voice, this latest innovation may herald a new dawn in the field of diagnostics and preventative care, particularly in relation to ailments that are chronically under-diagnosed and difficult to identify. This includes complex mood disorders and mild cases of depression, where there remains a lack of easily distinguishable symptoms and objective screening. Ultimately, this technology may eradicate these issues in some cases, while also advancing to the point where it is accessible to laymen through a downloadable mobile application.

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Last Updated on June 20, 2019

Science Says Guitar Players’ Brains Are Different From Others’

Science Says Guitar Players’ Brains Are Different From Others’

There’s nothing quite like picking up a guitar and strumming out some chords. Listening to someone playing the guitar can be mesmerising, it can evoke emotion and a good guitar riff can bring out the best of a song. Many guitar players find a soothing, meditative quality to playing, along with the essence of creating music or busting out an acoustic version of their favourite song. But how does playing the guitar affect the brain?

More and more scientific studies have been looking into how people who play the guitar have different brain functions compared to those who don’t. What they found was quite astonishing and backed up what many guitarists may instinctively know deep down.

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Guitar Players’ Brains Can Synchronise

You didn’t read that wrong! Yes, a 2012 study[1] was conducted in Berlin that looked at the brains of guitar players. The researchers took 12 pairs of players and got them to play the same piece of music while having their brains scanned.

During the experiment, they found something extraordinary happening to each pair of participants – their brains were synchronising with each other. So what does this mean? Well, the neural networks found in the areas of the brain associated with social cognition and music production were most activated when the participants were playing their instruments. In other words, their ability to connect with each other while playing music was exceptionally strong.

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Guitar Players Have a Higher Intuition

Intuition is described as “the ability to understand something instinctively, without the need for conscious reasoning” and this is exactly what’s happening when two people are playing the guitar together.

The ability to synchronise their brains with each other, stems from this developed intuitive talent indicating that guitar players have a definite spiritual dexterity to them. Not only do their brains synchronise with another player, but they can also even anticipate what is to come before and after a set of chords without consciously knowing. This explains witnessing a certain ‘chemistry’ between players in a band and why many bands include brothers who may have an even stronger connection.

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This phenomenon is actually thought to be down to the way guitarists learn how to play – while many musicians learn through reading sheet music, guitar players learn more from listening to others play and feeling their way through the chords. This also shows guitarists have exceptional improvisational skills[2] and quick thinking.

Guitar Players Use More of Their Creative, Unconscious Brain

The same study carried out a different experiment, this time while solo guitarists were shredding. They found that experienced guitar players were found to deactivate the conscious part of their brain extremely easily meaning they were able to activate the unconscious, creative and less practical way of thinking more efficiently.

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This particular area of the brain – the right temporoparietal junction – typically deactivates with ‘long term goal orientation’ in order to stop distractions to get goals accomplished. This was in contrast to the non-guitarists who were unable to shut off the conscious part of their brain which meant they were consciously thinking more about what they were playing.

This isn’t to say that this unconscious way of playing can’t be learnt. Since the brain’s plasticity allows new connections to be made depending on repeated practice, the guitar player’s brain can be developed over time but it’s something about playing the guitar in particular that allows this magic to happen.

Conclusion

While we all know musicians have very quick and creative brains, it seems guitar players have that extra special something. Call it heightened intuition or even a spiritual element – either way, it’s proven that guitarists are an exceptional breed unto themselves!

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Featured photo credit: Lechon Kirb via unsplash.com

Reference

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