Thursday, November 08, 2007

Hearing space

Today I read two things that converged.

Stewart, L. and Walsh, V. (2007) "Music perception: sounds lost in space," Current Biology 17/20, R892-3.
A recent study of spatial processing in amusia makes a controversial claim that such musical deficits may be understood in terms of a problem in the representation of space. If such a link is demonstrated to be causal, it would challenge the prevailing view that deficits in amusia are specific to the musical or even the auditory domain.
Lahiri, N. and Duncan, JS. (2007) "The Mozart effect: encore," Epilepsy Behavior 11/1, 152-3.

We admitted for assessment a 56-year-old gentleman who had experienced gelastic seizures (laughing fits) since shortly after birth. He developed complex partial seizures during his teenage years and secondarily generalized tonic–clonic seizures in his midthirties...

It was agreed that he should be admitted for reassessment of his condition and to determine whether further surgical intervention could be of benefit.

A few months prior to his admission, he learned that Mozart's music had been used, with some success, to enhance spatiotemporal reasoning. He therefore began to listen to Mozart for an average of 45 min a day. He did not listen to one particular piece of music.

Before he began listening to Mozart, he was having gelastic seizures with intense laughter, in association with altered perception and experiential phenomena, at a frequency of five or six per day, as well as secondarily generalized tonic–clonic seizures at an average frequency of seven per month. Electroencephalography revealed some evidence of right hemisphere involvement during the seizures that lasted 15–30 s. Seizures also were associated with a brief rise in heart rate.

Within days of starting to listen to Mozart regularly, he noticed a difference in the pattern of his seizures. In the 3 months during which he had listened to Mozart, he did not have any secondarily generalized tonic–clonic seizures. He continued to have five gelastic seizures a day, but these manifested as simply a brief smile (5–9 s), which he could disguise in the presence of others; in addition, the altered perception and experiential phenomena ceased. [via Mind Hacks]

Both of these studies emphasize the connection between the abilities of music perception and spatial reasoning. Certainly we use plenty of words about space when describing music: high vs. low notes, fast vs. slow tempo, linear motion, etc. Could it be that these ideas arise from our processing of music through the spatial reasoning portions of the brain?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Abstract Spatial Reasoning, yes. This is well known.

Which is why chess players, mathematicians, and musicians share such similar thought processes and vocabulary.

But why also the visual? Line...contour...colour?

Although from what I've been reading, music utilizes all the brain...not a particular localized hemisphere or function. And surprising, the cerebellum - not just for rhythm.