Music isn't just good for the soul - it's also good for the brain, according to new research by scientists at the University of Helsinki in Finland.
In their study, researchers found that listening to 20 minutes of classical music modulate genes responsible for brain functioning.
We already know that listening to music creates cognitive functioning in the brain, even resulting in positive physiological changes in the body. However, music also affects the brain at the molecular level, and this is the first study to determine how.
In the study, researchers had volunteers listen to Mozart's violin concerto No. 3 G-Major, K.216, a piece that lasts 20 minutes. They found that the music positively affected genes associated with a wide variety of brain functions, including genes responsible for secreting dopamine, functions linked with the brain's synapses, learning and memory.
They also learned that listening to music "down-regulated" genes linked with degenerative brain diseases. This suggests that listening to music helps keep the brain healthy, which is why music is often used on people suffering from degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's.
Researchers also found that a gene called synuclein-alpha (SNCA), which is most often linked with Parkinson's, saw more regulation as volunteers listened to music. This is also the gene responsible for how birds learn their songs.
"The up-regulation of several genes that are known to be responsible for song learning and singing in songbirds suggest a shared evolutionary background of sound perception between vocalizing birds and humans", says Dr. Irma Järvelä, the study's leader.
Understanding how music affects the brain on a genetic level could lead to better treatment for those with early stages of diseases that affect brain functioning. It could also give us more insight into how those areas of the brain degenerate, perhaps allowing us to learn more about how to stop that degeneration.
Music has also recently been used successfully with autistic children, helping them reduce their levels of stress and prevent them from hurting themselves. Listening to music is also behind The Sync Project, which seeks to use music as a way to battle depression and other mental illnesses, as well as insomnia.
"Besides the clinical work that we're doing, we hope the data that comes through this broad outreach shows how music can affect your mood or your ability to fall asleep," says Daphne Zohar, CEO of PureTech. "These things could improve people's everyday quality of life."
Perhaps Shakespeare had it right when he wrote: "The man that hath no music in himself/ Nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds/ Is fit for treasons, stratagems and spoils."
Photo: T.J. Lentz | Flickr