MIT Space2 workshop: Music and its role in maximizing attention and focus

The MIT Space2 workshop focused on how to live in confined environments both in space and on Earth, and the importance of music in mental health.

MIT Space2 workshop: Music and its role in maximizing attention and focus

At the 2019 MIT Space2 workshop, TechRepublic Senior Writer Teena Maddox spoke with The Institute for Music and Neurologic Function's Concetta Tomaino about how the MIT workshop focused on how to live in confined environments both in space and on Earth, and the importance of music in mental health. The following is an edited transcript of the interview.

Teena Maddox: So go ahead and tell me a little bit about the session you're doing here at the MIT workshop.

Concetta Tomaino: Today I'm going to be speaking about the importance of music in mental health, drawing from research that's been done over the years, mainly in health care situations, looking at how music can affect pain management, management of anxiety, reducing anxiety, helping the way of creativity and emotional regulation, and drawing some conclusions for how it could benefit people living in space in the ISS. The importance of active music making and the social aspects of music and sharing music too and the effects that it has on emotional well being.

Teena Maddox: What are some of the applications for this in a modern workplace?

Concetta Tomaino: It's interesting because we tend to think of music as something we listen to for various reasons, either to relax or whatever. But we also know that we can use music to maximize our attention and focus. So you can imagine having beats that will entrain more engaged attention or beats that would actually reduce and relax. Certain frequencies of sounds that can increase attention and frequencies of sound that actually be very distracting. And so there's research going on around the world, in various labs, looking at how these various aspects of music, the rhythm, the harmonies, the frequencies of sound actually affect our attention in the frontal cortex, and then associate the variants in the brain as well.

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Teena Maddox: Can you talk a little bit about some of the applications for patients with brain injuries or neurological disorders?

Concetta Tomaino: Yes, most of my work has been in clinical music therapy. Specifically, with people with neurologic disorders, people with Parkinson's disease where we've seen and researched how rhythm, we refer to as rhythmic auditory stimulation, actually helps in the initiation of gait in somebody with Parkinson's, who has freezing and festination, as well as the coordination of gait in that population. Rhythm can also help articulation and communication issues in Parkinson's and stroke. Somebody who's had a stroke and who's, especially on the left side where there's been a lesion in Broca's area, those people tend to have non fluent aphasia.

In that case, they understand everything that's being said to them but they can't form a fluent phase. But we do know that the shared networks between singing and language production and using those shared networks that are basically music driven, singing the rhythmic aspects of speech, the prose of them in speech, actually can be stimulated through music type or music based activities and treatments. And those engage the shared networks between language and singing. Through that we can help people recover communication.

In children with learning disabilities, we know they... Children who have language delays may also have perceptual problems with rhythm. So they don't really process the patterns of sound adequately enough to develop an understanding of language. So they don't perceive what's being said to them. They don't perceive the patterns of what's being said and therefore are unable to be able to really understand what's being said to them. As they learn, and one of the areas that we will be researching soon, is as these children become accomplished in processing rhythmic patterns, will they indeed improve their ability to understand the spoken word.

Teena Maddox: Can you tell me about the importance of music with memory?

Concetta Tomaino: What's really interesting about music is that music has many components. I had mentioned rhythm and frequency and harmony. When we think of music as song, those songs throughout our life become part of our emotional makeup. There are songs that we form strong emotional and memory attachments to and throughout life those particular songs get rehearsed over and over again as a way of reminiscing. When the person has memory loss related to Alzheimer's disease or some type of neurocognitive deficit disorder, those particular songs, songs of autobiographical importance, can actually pull together preserved areas that can help that person, not only recognize the familiarity of the song, but actually recall aspects of their past life and information of personal importance.

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