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Musical Training Before Age 14 May Prevent Loss of Language Skills In Later Life

Musical Training Before Age 14 May Prevent Loss of Language Skills In Later Life

“Musical activities are an engaging form of cognitive brain training and we are now seeing robust evidence of brain plasticity from musical training not just in younger brains, but in older brains too”.

—Gavin Bidelman, Assistant professor, University of Memphis

With the use of modern technology, scientists have uncovered surprising evidence that playing a musical instrument holds a great deal more benefits than we have ever imagined.

Scientists are now able to monitor brain activity in real-time using FMRI (Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging). These machines monitor activity in different parts of the brain. Researchers found that listening to music triggered ‘fireworks’ within the brain, suggesting activity in multiple parts of the brain simultaneously.

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Playing music is described by Anita Collins in a TED Ed video: how playing an instrument benefits your brain’ as the brain’s version of a ‘full-body workout’.

“The neuroscientists saw multiple areas of the brain light up simultaneously, processing different information in intricate, interrelated and astonishingly fast sequences.”

—Anita Collins, TED Ed

Neuroscientists found that the aesthetic and artistic factors of learning to play a musical instrument are unique when compared with any other activity studied, including other arts and sports.

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Making music triggers activity in virtually every part of the brain at once, particularly the visual, auditory and motor cortices, and disciplined practice strengthens these areas. We can apply that strength to benefit other functions in day-to-day life.

Playing a musical instrument involves the mathematical and linguistic capacities of the left hemisphere of the brain in addition to the creative capacity of the right hemisphere. This strengthens the bridge between the two, allowing better communication between them. As a result, it is suggested that people who play musical instruments hone better problem-solving skills in both social and academic situations. Musicians are also known to demonstrate heightened memory functions in regard to storing, creating and retrieving memories more efficiently.

The ability to comprehend speech has been shown to be one of the cognitive factors affected by aging. The brain’s central auditory system weakens in later years, diminishing its ability to analyze, sequence, and identify acoustic features of speech.

New studies led by the Canadian Rotman Research Institute (RRI) suggest that older adults who begin playing musical instruments at a young age identify speech sounds 20% faster than their non-musical peers.

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“Starting formal lessons on a musical instrument prior to age 14 and continuing intense training for up to a decade appears to enhance key areas in the brain that support speech recognition”.

—- Baycrest Center for Geriatric Care

The study consisted of 20 healthy adults between the ages of 55 and 75, half of whom were musicians and the other half non-musicians. They were asked to identify sounds ranging from random speech sounds, to simple single vowel sounds, to a more challenging and complex combination of the two.

With the use of EEG (Electroencephalography) imaging, scientists were able to measure the precise timing of electrical activity in the brain in response to the given stimuli. It was then identified that older musicians showed double or triple brain-behavior response compared to their non-musical counterparts.

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Musical training commenced before the age of fourteen and carried out into adulthood offers a cognitive boost to developing brains. Additionally, the new findings suggest that these boosts carry on into old age, when the brain needs the added help most.

Whether you are a parent considering introducing your child to their first musical instrument at a young age or an older adult who may have begun playing music as a young person, the benefits of a musical lifestyle are endless. Starting musical training early is the key to an even brighter future.

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Elizabeth Andal

Elizabeth is a passionate writer who shares about lifestyle tips and lessons learned in life on Lifehack.

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Last Updated on July 17, 2019

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

What happens in our heads when we set goals?

Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

The Neurology of Ownership

Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

The Upshot for Goal-Setters

So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

Reference

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