Why do we move to rhythm?

The Roskilde Music Festival, one of the largest in Europe, is getting ready to kick-off on June 25th. So, in preparation, DiscovHER takes a look at one woman’s -research on why we as humans move to rhythm and how this may be connected to the brain.

Dr. Jessica Grahn is a cognitive neuroscientist, musician and a strong women in science advocate! She’s participated in multiple TED talks, discussing her research on rhythmic ability among the healthy human population, as well as how music and rhythm may be processed in the brain of Parkinson’s disease patients, and others who may have dysfunction in the movement areas.


Dr. Grahn uses brain scanning to observe brain activity in response to rhythms and music. And her findings are pretty exciting! For one of her studies, participants were asked to listen to two different rhythms, and discern whether the two are the same or different, while remaining still. The brain activity during this time was surprising: of course, the auditory cortex that processes sounds was activated, but so were motor areas, which are responsible for processing movement, even though participants in the study remained completely still during the experiment.

She then conducted the same study, this time having participants listen to music, instead of only rhythm. Again, what she found was that the exact same motor areas were activated, leading her to believe that rhythm really drives motor area responses, even in the context of music. In other words, she states, “music isn’t about sound, but fundamentally about movement.”


These findings are significant because it means music can be used to change activity in motor areas of the brain, particularly for people who have suffered a stroke, or degenerative disease patients.


Music is already being used to help Parkinson’s disease patients, but with widely varying results. Dr. Grahn and her colleages believe this is because individual responses to music are also variable. Each person reacts differently to different types of music, and everybody has their favorite genre of music to listen and dance to. So, to take this into consideration, she asks patients to choose their own music and is looking at how this may positively affect the motor areas of the brain.


In other words, music may have a very powerful effect on movement, one that we are just beginning to understand. What do you think?


Let us know @4womeninscience


L’Oréal–UNESCO
For Women in Science

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