“Music has charms to soothe the savage breast; to soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak.”
— William Congreve, English dramatist (1670 – 1729)

When William Congreve wrote these words into his play, “The Mourning Bride”, he was not making an anatomical reference by his use of the word “breast”. In his time, at the turn of the 18th Century, his reference to the “savage breast” was taken as a reference to uncivilized or irrational behavior. Later when the word breast took on a more specific meaning the word “beast” was substituted but the meaning was not changed and became, perhaps, even clearer.

Science later confirmed Congreve’s inference that music has power over human behavior when it discovered that the human brain has a chemical reaction to music — it produces chemicals that help to improve brain function. One of those chemicals, Serotonin has been found to also improve nerve function.

Now researchers in Finland have taken the role of music in human behavior another step. According to today’s Washington Post:

“Their study of 54 patients who’d suffered a stroke of the right or left hemisphere middle cerebral artery found that those who listened to music for a few hours a day showed better improvements in verbal memory and focused attention, and had a more positive mood than those who listened to audio books or listened to nothing at all.”

The stroke victims were given a choice between listening to music or audio books or nothing at all. Everyone was also given the standard physical therapy. Here’s a quote from a statement by the chief author of the study, Teppo Sarkamo, of the University of Helsinki and the Helsinki Brain Institute, where he quantifies the improvement:

“We found that three months after the stroke, verbal memory improved from the first week post-stroke by 60 percent in music listeners, by 18 percent in audio book listeners and by 29 percent in non-listeners. Similarly, focused attention — the ability to control and perform mental operations and resolve conflicts among responses — improved by 17 percent in music listeners, but no improvement was observed in audio book listeners and non-listeners. These differences were still essentially the same six months after the stroke.”

An additional fact is that those who chose to listen to music chose their own music. I can’t help but wonder just what music they chose. I can’t imagine Hard Rock, Hip-Hop or Rap having anything but a negative effect on emotional stability and an even worse effect on brain function. That, of course, is a non-scientific rant on my part.

News Links:

CBS News: Music To The Ears Of Some Stroke Victims

Washington Post: Music Therapy Improves Stroke Outcomes

Blog Links:

TuneDex Memories: Stressed? Victim of a stroke? We can help!

Locked and Secure: Strokes, Music And Gambling

Whymrhymer blogs at: My View From the Center

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