Brain Health,
Sci + Society,

#216: Music and Creativity with Dr. Psyche Loui

January 26, 2018

“Listen to Beethoven’s 5th at 90 decibels, every 2 hours.”

Could something like this ever be a doctor’s prescription?

It’s funny to think about, but in many ways, we already know that music could be “like a drug,” causing predictable changes in brain activity.  As scientists gain a greater understanding of the short-and long-term consequences of both music performance (and music appreciation), the potential to use music as a therapy is growing.

Dr. Psyche Loui has been performing music since she was a young child, and studying music and its interplay with the brain since university.  Now a faculty member in the Psychology department at Wesleyan University, as well as director of the MIND Lab, she conducts ongoing studies into the two-way flow of information between the human brain and the music it seems to instinctively love.

Among the questions her research seeks to explore:

  • How do humans perceive and produce music?
  • How can music be used to understand the brain?
  • Why do humans enjoy music?
  • How can music be used to help people with neurological and psychiatric disorders?
Dr. Loui is also a science advisor for, whose founders we interviewed in Episode #107 about Brainwave Entrainment.

While humans puff our chests with pride about our opposable thumbs and facility with language, we seem to undervalue our abilities with music — normally giving greater credit to songbirds, humpback whales, even crickets.

In reality, the human range of musical expressiveness far exceeds what any animal is known to do.  Our music can evoke emotion, trigger memories, create expectation and then deliver “surprises” — which is a strange ability for a medium that is not typically thought of as informational, per se.

All human cultures have some form of music — and often many forms.  These range from simple drums to electric violins to the eerie vocalizations of Mongolian throat singing.  But different forms of music affect the brains differently — both for listeners and for music-makers.  (Listen for Dr. Loui’s descriptions of the differences between classical music and improvisational jazz.)

We’re not yet to the point where doctors are prescribing songs like pharmaceuticals — but it’s not a crazy concept.  Think about that the next time a song gets “stuck in your head” or “makes you need to get out and dance.”

Shepard Tones

In the Ruthless Listener Retention Gimmick, we cover Shepard Tones, a form of audio illusion.  If you want to weird yourself out with a perpetually rising tone (or so it seems), listen to this…forever.

Show Notes
  • 00:00:33

    Episode introduction: Music and Creativity with Dr. Psyche Loui.

  • 00:01:32

    This Week In Neuroscience: Prosody encoding in the brain. How the brain interprets prosody.

  • 00:04:46

    5-Star review shoutouts.

  • 00:05:42

    SDS news and updates.

  • 00:07:18

    Guest introduction: Dr. Psyche Loui.

  • 00:08:25

    Interview begins: Dr. Loui's background.

  • 00:09:40

    Study on brain indices of music processing.

  • 00:10:58

    Where does this knowledge come from?

  • 00:11:35

    Development of a musical system with mathematical properties.

  • 00:12:17

    Any overlap between language processing and music processing?

  • 00:13:15

    Is there a sensitive period for the acquisition of musical skills?

  • 00:14:05

    How do we become creative?

  • 00:15:30

    Jazz improvisation as a useful model for music and creativity.

  • 00:17:40

    How do we measure creativity?

  • 00:18:50

    Two aspects of creativity.

  • 00:20:23

    Forming expectations, forward and backward processing, and the role played by both the motor and auditory systems.

  • 00:21:29

    Individual differences in musical abilities.

  • 00:22:13

    How does music help us pay attention?

  • 00:24:02

    Listening to music while working.

  • 00:27:14

    Musical frisson.

  • 00:29:28

    Musical anhedonia.

  • 00:32:00

    What is next for Dr. Loui?

  • 00:34:12

    Interview wrap-up.

  • 00:35:32

    Ruthless Listener Retention Gimmick: Shepard Tones.

  • 00:38:03

    Episode wrap-up.

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