Music as Therapy: Biometrics as a New Frontier
Music is a currency that has true universality that spans culture and time. It is something that all members of our species (and perhaps non-human species), share. Music can be any rhythmic sound and vibration made in nature, by an instrument and certainly the human voice that may differ in pattern, timbre, and melody. It is a subjective experience whereby the definition of what constitutes music or indeed, good music, is largely dictated by a given culture, individual or even different emotional states or activities an individual is engaging in, where music has the capacity to enhance or alter experience.
Benefits of Music
There is a plethora of neurobiological studies that have assessed the activation of the limbic system, which is a series of structures in the brain that dictates emotion and mood and includes the hypothalamus which elicits physiological responses to those emotive aspects of music. Therefore, music can enhance or attenuate our emotions. It can inspire feelings of happiness, jubilation, fear, sadness, or arousal, to name a few, and provides a cathartic experience for the participant. This depends on the type or genre of music, the mode, the timber, tempo, pitch, and other sound qualities that are differentially evocative. This represents an elegant interplay between emotions evoked, neurotransmitters released and autonomic nervous system activation (chills, sweating, heart rate etc.). These biological cascades result in various physiological responses that can be measured using certain biometric technologies.
Music is not merely an enjoyment to create, dance or listen to, however, it has the power to heal and alter our physiology.
Music can cause a surge of feel-good neurotransmitters in the brain such as dopamine, endogenous opioids, oxytocin, endorphins and serotonin, and can help relieve pain, help those suffering various neuropsychiatric disorders such as depression and anxiety, stress relief and even as an adjunctive therapy to treat opioid drug users and people suffering chronic pain. Music has a role in language development in children and people who have suffered stroke or neurological damage to language areas of the brain, and even in premature and sick infants in the NICU. Curiously, music also plays a role in optimizing immunity by increasing S-IgA (an immune protein that protects the mucosa of the respiratory and digestive tract), natural killer cells that fight infection and lowers the immune-weakening stress hormone, cortisol.
There is also evidence that music may help people with other neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s, epilepsy and those with the neurodegenerative Alzheimer’s disease. In fact, there is research being conducted that suggests a role for vibroacoustic therapy for people suffering with Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease. This therapy uses low frequency vibrations that help restore synaptic/neural pathways in the major sensory relay highway in the brain called the thalamus, which may improve cortical communication in the brain and help restore memory.
Biometrics and Technology
Technology is having an increasing role in our cognizance of musical therapy, individual preferences, and physiology. A new era of wearable technologies assess vital parameters from portable EEG sensors that map electrical activity in the brain, heart rate, blood pressure and heart rate variability, oxygenation, movement, and sleep. These parameters, as we know, influence and are attributed to emotion, mood and arousal or stress and there is an emerging field melding these technologies with our responses to music in attempts to suit our individual needs and improve health. In fact, the NIH has invested $20 million in the Sound Health Initiative which seeks to better understand the link between music, health and healing.
New age apps and technologies are attempting to bridge this gap between music and biofeedback/physiological mechanisms such as MedRhythms Inc., which focuses on neurological disorders. Another is the SyncProject Inc., which provides individual based music recommendations akin to how Spotify compiles lists based on moods and logarithmic preferences of the user.
These are just a few examples of start-ups using these biological signatures and user preferences to advance our understanding and utilize existing knowledge of how music can be employed as a wellness and therapeutic strategy across the soundscapes.
Tea and music are the perfect pairing. Sip, reflect, repeat.
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