Friday, October 21, 2005

"Brain Becomes an iPod"

On musical hallucinations:

[Dr. Aziz's] study also shows that these hallucinations are different from the auditory hallucinations of people with schizophrenia. Such people often hear inner voices. Patients like Mr. King hear only music.

The results support recent work by neuroscientists indicating that our brains use special networks of neurons to perceive music. When sounds first enter the brain, they activate a region near the ears called the primary auditory cortex that starts processing sounds at their most basic level. The auditory cortex then passes on signals of its own to other regions, which can recognize more complex features of music, like rhythm, key changes and melody.

Neuroscientists have been able to identify some of these regions with brain scans, and to compare the way people respond to musical and nonmusical sounds.

Dr. Tim Griffiths, a neurologist at the University of Newcastle Upon Tyne in England, performed one of these studies on six elderly patients who developed musical hallucinations after becoming partly deaf....

Dr. Griffiths discovered a network of regions in the brain that became more active as the hallucinations became more intense. "What strikes me is that you see a very similar pattern in normal people who are listening to music," he said.

The main difference is that musical hallucinations don't activate the primary auditory cortex, the first stop for sound in the brain. When Dr. Griffith's subjects hallucinated, they used only the parts of the brain that are responsible for turning simple sounds into complex music.

These music-processing regions may be continually looking for signals in the brain that they can interpret, Dr. Griffiths suggested. When no sound is coming from the ears, the brain may still generate occasional, random impulses that the music-processing regions interpret as sound. They then try to match these impulses to memories of music, turning a few notes into a familiar melody.

More @ The New York Times ...

... and, 'An iPod in Your Head' @ The Loom

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