Listening to music boosts learning, study finds

February 18, 2019

Listening to music can influence our emotions and perception, with studies suggesting anxious and stressed patients cope better when they listen to music. It has been recently acknowledged as a ‘learning tool’ for the masses –with direct evidence to show that music can activate the brain’s reward centre and motivate learning in an error prediction model.

Researchers from Mc Gill University, Canada worked with 20 young participants aged 18-27 years by using a musical reward learning task and functional MRI to demonstrate how pleasurable music motivates the brain to learn and strive for its reward.

In the experiment, each person had to choose a combination of colors and directions, and each combination had a probability of the participant hearing either a pleasant or an unpleasant audio track. After a few attempts, the participants learned which combinations would increase their chances of accessing the enjoyable audio reward.

The researchers concurrently used functional MRI to measure the participants’ brain activity, and upon further observation, found that the correct predictions of some participants correlated with heightened activity in the nucleus accumbens of their brain. The same participants also made the most learning progress throughout the experiment.

Previous research relates the nucleus accumbens activity to pleasure, thus indicating that music is a viable reward and provides sufficient motivation for the brain to learn new information to easily access pleasure within a task.

Study author Benjamin Gold has explained that the findings support the effects of abstract stimuli like music on the pleasure centres of our brains, and this can even be observed with rewards of food or money. Gold has concluded that such predictive processing might play a more prominent role in reward and pleasure than previously realized.

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Category: Education, Features

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