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Whether you load your iPod with Bach or Bono, music has a significant role in your life — even if you never realized it. Why does music evoke such powerful moods? The answers are at last becoming clear, thanks to revolutionary neuroscience and the emerging field of evolutionary psychology. Both a cutting-edge study and a tribute to the beauty of music itself, This Is Your Brain on Music unravels a host of mysteries that affect everything from pop culture to our understanding of human nature, including:
- Are our musical preferences shaped in utero?
- Is there a cutoff point for acquiring new tastes in music?
- What do PET scans and MRIs reveal about the brain's response to music?
- Is musical pleasure different from other kinds of pleasure?
This Is Your Brain on Music explores cultures in which singing is considered an essential human function, patients who have a rare disorder that prevents them from making sense of music, and scientists studying why two people may not have the same definition of pitch. At every turn, this provocative work unlocks deep secrets about how nature and nurture forge a uniquely human obsession.
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Daniel J. Levitin runs the Levitin Laboratory for Musical Perception, Cognition, and Expertise at McGill University, where he holds the Bell Chair in the Psychology of Electronic Communications. Before becoming a neuroscientist, he was a record producer with gold records to his credit and professional musician. He has published extensively in scientific journals and music trade magazines such as Grammy and Billboard.From Scientific American:
Everyone knows that music can calm a savage beast, rouse a marching platoon or move lovers to tears. But no one knows exactly how. Daniel Levitin, a professional musician, record producer and now neuroscientist at McGill University, explains the latest thinking into why tunes touch us so deeply. He also speculates about whether specific pathways have evolved in our brain for making and listening to music. Using brain imaging, Levitin has documented neural activation in people as they listen to music, revealing a novel cascade of excitation that begins in the auditory system and spreads to regions related to planning, expectation and language as well as arousal, pleasure, mood and rhythmic movement. "Music listening, performance and composition engage nearly every area of the brain that we have so far identifi ed and involve nearly every neural subsystem," he notes. Music’s effects on neurons are so distributed that in some cases stroke victims who can no longer decipher letters can still read music, and some impaired individuals who cannot button a sweater can nevertheless play the piano. Levitin describes new insights into these conditions as well as disorders that cause certain individuals to lack empathy, emotional perception and musicality. He and others suspect a cluster of genes may influence both outgoingness and music ability. He also posits that music promotes cognitive development. Not surprisingly, music reaches deep into the brain’s most primitive structures—including our ancient "reptilian brain" tied to motivation, reward and emotion. Music elevates dopamine levels in the brain’s mood and pleasure centers in ways similar to those triggered by narcotics and antidepressants. Levitin also explains how the neural underpinnings of auditory stimulation and mate selection reach far back in life’s evolutionary scheme. Levitin has no agenda per se, although the book is a rebuttal of sorts to scientists who say music has served no purpose other than to pleasurably stimulate auditory nerve endings. He simply explains an emerging view about the coevolution of music and the brain. To tell his tale, Levitin engagingly weaves together strands of his own life as a professional musician (who dropped out of college to form a band) with those of his transformation into a neuroscientist. To revel in Ra vel’s Boléro or Charlie Parker’s Koko, he reminds us, is to stimulate the brain in a "choreography of neurochemical release and uptake between logical prediction systems and emotional reward systems"—a ballet of brain regions "ex quisitely orchestrated."
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