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Where music lives in our brain

Since my stroke I pay more attention to information I find on how our brain works.

Scientists think they’ve located the area in our brains that allows us to remember exactly where we were, who we were with, and what kind of sandwich we were eating when we first heard “My Sharona” by The Knack. It turns out that the region of the brain that supports and retrieves memory also functions as a hub for music, memory, and emotion. Petr Janata, associate professor of psychology at UC Davis’ Center for Mind and Brain, performed functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) on 13 UC Davis students, recording brain activity while his subjects listened to random songs from Top 100 charts. The more vividly the students remembered the songs, the more brain activity the fMRI recorded in the upper section of their medial pre-frontal cortex.


Musicians’ brains have their own secrets to tell, though. Psychologists at Vanderbilt University report that musicians use both the left and right sides of their frontal cortex more than most people, possibly because many musicians need to learn how to move both hands independently in order to play their instruments. In one test, musicians and non-musicians had their brains monitored with a technique called NIRS, for near-infrared spectroscopy.


Both groups were asked to come up with new uses for common everyday objects while the NIRS measured changes in blood oxygenation. The musicians showed more activity in both sides of their frontal lobes, leading the scientists to suggest a qualitative difference in how their brains handled the task

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