A documentary to understand the “super powers of music”!

On April 1, 2023, ARTE broadcast a documentary on the effects of music on our brain. It is available for replay until 30 May 2023 on arte.tv.

Recent advances in neuroscience have demonstrated the tremendous impact of music on the brain, and its many benefits at every stage of life.

How can music contribute to making us “stronger and smarter”? Here are some answers from this documentary, which we recommend.

A superpower for everyone

Music plays a central role in our societies and our lives. But it is not only rooted in our collective cultural memory, it is also rooted in each of us, in our brain.

And for good reason, it plays a considerable role in cognitive development:

It triggers emotions and helps to control them. It is therefore an antidote to stress and painful perception. By activating the reward circuit, it can even have a euphoric and doping effect.

It stimulates and facilitates learning, starting with language in children. It also helps to combat memory loss and dyslexia.

– It facilitates human relations, helps the socialisation of young children and the good relations of older children.

Only 1 to 2% of the world’s population is said to be ” amusic “, i.e. deprived of musical understanding. For all the others, music plays an essential role throughout their lives.

Even before birth..

Science has proven it: the unborn child is sensitive to music from a very early age.

The embryo is predisposed to perceive and process musical stimuli. It reacts as early as the 6th month of pregnancy. A surprising observation: 83% of foetuses move when they hear music, while only 57% react to non-musical vibrations.

Music and newborn care

Doctors recommend that parents sing during skin-to-skin care. The baby then benefits from a real massage that is both sonic and vibratory, a source of positive emotion and serenity.

And for children born prematurely? For a long time it was thought that these little ones should be in absolute calm. However, at the Lyon University Hospital, the integration of lyrical song into care protocols has demonstrated the precious effects of music on these children: regulation of stress with a more relaxed breathing frequency, implementation of certain essential movements such as sucking, soothing effect during painful care, etc

The musical skills of the young child

As they grow up, toddlers, who are born with a “musical brain”¹, will use music and its regular rhythms to learn.

In particular, the baby’s brain can already perceive and process rhythms. This is a fundamental skill, which will enable him naturally and effortlessly to learn to speak, since language is itself composed of rhythms.

The neuronal symphony, an asset for learning

Neuronal connections are the basis of brain development: the more the brain synchronises, the more it develops its skills. When listening to music, different parts of the brain are stimulated and the neurons coordinate like the instrumentalists in a large orchestra. This is the miracle of the “neural symphony”, a chain reaction of stimuli triggered by music.

Improved concentration and reasoning, development of creativity, improved oral expression, learning syllables, numbers and reading: music has a positive effect on school results. A meta-analysis of 7000 children showed that 2 hours of music per week at school had as much cognitive effect as homework.

Music as a biological necessity in humans

Research has shown the interaction between the auditory system, complex cognitive functions, the limbic system that modulates the emotional responses triggered by the brain … but also some basic biological functions related to survival.

More precisely, music triggershormone secretions, those substances that determine emotions, moods that influence our relationship with others but also… feelings, including the feeling of love. This is why, from celebrations to religious services and romantic situations, it plays an essential role in facilitating human relationships: it helps to make us social beings.

In particular, music generates dopamine, just like food or sex, the two pillars of our survival. Thus, it triggers the reward system, which in turn creates a euphoric and doping effect. This effect is such that headphones are banned in some sports competitions!

Therapeutic virtues throughout life

Because music acts like a drug on our body, it can also help cure addictions. At the psychiatric hospital in Dijon, in collaboration with the CNRS, a treatment protocol combines sport and music to stimulate the reward circuit more strongly, which until now has been activated by harmful drugs. In Leipzig, a researcher has invented a fitness machine that uses the doping effects of music to treat certain addictions.

Music can be an antidote to certain difficulties encountered by children during brain development. With rhythm and dance, it can, for example, help treat coordination problems: motor problems, dyslexia, etc

It is also a solution for seniors, when the brain is deteriorating. It was already known that people with Alzheimer ‘s disease have the ability to remember songs from their youth. We now know that they can learn new ones: music allows learning and memory networks that were in decline to be reactivated. A very promising avenue for cognitive rehabilitation!

Throughout life, music could also be an antidote to stress, pain and even certain forms of depression. Studies have shown that musical practice during confinement during the Covid-19 crisis was accompanied by lower anxiety and better mental health.

This scientific investigation by Jacques Mitsch (co-production ARTE France / Compagnie des Phares et Balises), deciphers the biological and neurological phenomena at work. It is based on the testimonies and explanations of eminent specialists, researchers and/or artists and musicians: Emmanuel Bigand, cognitive psychologist at the University of Burgundy; Thomas Fritz, researcher in neuropsychology at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences (Germany); Mathilde Groussard, teacher-researcher in cognitive psychology and neuropsychology at the University of Caen Normandy; Robert Zatorre, professor at the Neuroscience Institute of McGill University in Montreal; Laurel Trainor, professional musician and Canadian neuroscientist; the soprano Delphine Ribemont-Lambert who sings in the ears of premature children at the CHU in Lyon..

To be seen on arte.tv until 30 May 2023 !