A research team from Stanford University School of Medicine took images of the brain in action using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) as people listened to short symphonies by an obscure 18th-century composer. This study aimed to gain valuable insight into how the brain sorts of different stimuli around it and sorts out events. Their findings are published in the Aug 2 issue of Neuron.
This research showed that music engages the same parts of the brain that are involved with paying attention, making predictions and updating the event in memory. Peak brain activity occurred between musical movements – when nothing was happening.

According to Jonathan Berger, PhD, associate professor of music and a musician who is also a co-author of the study, this study suggests one possible adaptive evolutionary purpose of music. Music engages the brain over a period of time and the process of listening to music could be a way to sharpen the brain’s ability to anticipate events and sustain attention.

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