MAR 07, 2020 8:31 AM PST

Speech and Melodies Processed in Different Parts of Brain

WRITTEN BY: Annie Lennon

Songbirds are able to separate sounds by processing them according to two distinct categories- time and frequency. To understand whether humans are able to do the same, Robert Zatorre, a professor at McGill University, and his team, conducted a study looking at how humans distinguish between words and melodies in songs. 

To do so, he first partnered up with a composer and a soprano, with whom he created 100 unique acapella songs from 10 sentences each sung alongside 10 original melodies for a few seconds each. Then, using a computer, he and his team altered the recordings. In some, they removed information regarding song frequencies, producing a breathy-sounding voice similar to that of Darth Vader. In others, they removed information about how the sounds changed over time, making the music sound more like someone humming than singing. 

To understand how these interferences altered the processing of the sounds in the brain, they then invited 49 participants to listen to the melodies and words. In the end, they found that participants were still able to recognize the lyrics in the songs in which frequencies were changed, although they were unable to recognize the melodies. Meanwhile, in those in which timings were changed, participants were unable to understand the lyrics, although they were still able to recognize the melodies. 

While listening to the songs, the researchers also recorded each participant's brain activity using a functional MRI. The results from these scans demonstrated that while speech content was primarily processed in the left auditory cortex, melodic content primarily activated the right cortex. 

All in all, the study demonstrated that listening to music engages both hemispheres of the brain a way that is different from processing either music or speech by themselves. According to Zatorre, that may be why songs are especially easy to remember and carry special meaning across cultures around the globe. 

Following these findings, the researchers hope to figure out how the brain combines both streams of information into coherent listening experiences. More than this, they also aim to study the same process in more melodic languages, such as Thai and Mandarin, to see how results may differ. 


 

Sources: NPR and Science Mag  


 

 

 

About the Author
  • Annie Lennon is a writer whose work also appears in Medical News Today, Psych Central, Psychology Today, and other outlets. When she's not writing, she is COO of Xeurix, an HR startup that assesses jobfit from gamified workplace simulations.
You May Also Like
JUL 23, 2021
Neuroscience
Does the Rise of Neurotech Spell the End of Humanity as We Know it?
JUL 23, 2021
Does the Rise of Neurotech Spell the End of Humanity as We Know it?
Researchers from Imperial College London have written an overview of currently available commercial brain-computer inter ...
AUG 05, 2021
Neuroscience
Mice Control 'Feel Good' Chemical Dopamine in Their Brains
AUG 05, 2021
Mice Control 'Feel Good' Chemical Dopamine in Their Brains
Mice are both aware of random dopamine signaling in their brains and can willfully control it, according to new research ...
AUG 24, 2021
Drug Discovery & Development
A comparison of drugs for relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis.
AUG 24, 2021
A comparison of drugs for relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis.
     Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a rare and unpredictable autoimmune disease in which the body’s inn ...
AUG 25, 2021
Cell & Molecular Biology
An Atomic-Level Look at Infectious Proteins
AUG 25, 2021
An Atomic-Level Look at Infectious Proteins
Scientists have used a tool called cryo-electron microscopy to get an unprecedented and detailed look at infectious, mis ...
AUG 28, 2021
Neuroscience
Virtual Reality Reduces Pain in Children During Medical Procedures
AUG 28, 2021
Virtual Reality Reduces Pain in Children During Medical Procedures
Virtual reality (VR) reduces pain and anxiety in children undergoing medical procedures. The corresponding study was pub ...
SEP 20, 2021
Health & Medicine
Nanomedicine and the Future of Stroke Management
SEP 20, 2021
Nanomedicine and the Future of Stroke Management
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, someone dies from a stroke every four minutes in the U ...
Loading Comments...