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Europe, Brain and Music: New perspectives for stimulating cognitive and sensory processes

Final Report Summary - EBRAMUS (Europe, Brain and Music: New perspectives for stimulating cognitive and sensory processes)

The EBRAMUS project aimed to evaluate the effects of music to stimulate sensory, cognitive and motor processes. This fascinating scientific issue taps into a crucial aspect of the human brain: its neural and functional plasticity. In healthy individuals, music-based stimulation offers the possibility to protect and improve existing cognitive capacities. In patient populations, music-based stimulation is a noninvasive and non-pharmacological method to recover cognitive and motor functions after brain injury or delayed mental development. It opens new perspectives for therapeutic interventions designed to improve the well-being and mood of patients suffering from various diseases, including Alzheimer's, Parkinson’s disease, and stroke. The possibility of including powerful engineering technologies and computational sciences in cognitive training programs further enhances the effectiveness and accessibility of these programs. The field of sensory and cognitive brain stimulation has opened promising avenues to solve some of the most important challenges in health and education in modern societies, but long-term progress in this area requires considerable investment on the part of the scientific community in both state-of-the-art resources and the highest-quality scientific personnel.
As suggested by recent empirical evidence showing that music modifies our brain and our cognitive system in a specific way, music is a promising tool for cognitive stimulation. Cognitive psychology research has reported side effects of music on cognition, neuroscience research has reported music-induced plasticity after short training in musically untrained adults, and clinical research has provided evidence of positive effects of music in brain-damaged patients. Listening to music is a complex process for the brain that triggers series of cognitive and emotional components with distinct neural substrates. This finding has several implications for education and health domains. Cognitive stimulation with music could presumably increase the neural resources of healthy individuals and might protect them against the detrimental effects of aging or help to restore impaired functioning after brain injury. Although this assertion remains speculative, some empirical evidence has been directly reported along this line. All of this evidence suggests that music may have specific advantages for cognitive stimulation.
The EBRAMUS project investigated the beneficial effects of music on complementary domains of human behavior (auditory perception, linguistic function, memory, motor processes) in a common framework. The project was designed to make substantial advances in the possible use of music as a tool for cognitive and sensory stimulation in various populations, including children, normal and impaired adults, and the elderly. The project has rested on complementary methods spanning from behavioral methods in experimental and developmental psychology, electro-physiological and brain imaging methods in neurosciences, and motion recording techniques, to clinical approaches in neuropsychology and to computational sciences. In addition, the project was strongly rooted in music theory and education. Bringing together researchers with different backgrounds and expertise, who were willing to share their knowledge, has allowed realizing a project that was original in its theme (neurocognition of music), hypotheses (positive transfer effects of music), methods (strong interdisciplinarity), and social implications (rehabilitation of patients). This strong complementarity of methods was one of the most important assets of EBRAMUS, allowing us to train young scientists in a wide array of techniques in the Cognitive Neurosciences.
The research project was organized in three WorkPackages (WP) that assessed the possible benefits of music on 3 levels of human cognition. WP2 (Music Training & Linguistic Abilities) focused on perceptual and linguistic processing. We investigated various aspects of linguistic abilities that may be improved after repeated exposition to musical material and prosodic stimuli. WP3 (Music boosts Memory) focused on learning and memory processes. It was designed to evaluate whether music enhances the memorization of nonmusical material, or contributes to learning regular structures in new material. WP4 (Music & Motor Rehabilitation) addressed the influence of music perception and musical training on motor abilities. It assesses whether exposing participants to music stimulation leads to the rehabilitation of motor abilities. Each WP was divided in subprojects, which involved strong interactivity and dynamic collaboration between the partners.
Empirical research performed in these three WP allowed the EBRAMUS consortium to further establish the neurocognitive foundations of cognitive stimulation with music, and to provide further evidence of the positive effects music stimulation has on numerous cognitive (non-musical) processes. For instance, the neural pathways involved in music and language processing have been investigated by innovative methods that consist of repeating the same tune with different lyrics or, the same lyrics with different tunes using brain-imaging techniques. Looking at the parts of the brain that do (or not) respond to both kinds of repetition contributes to isolate the neural pathways that overlap between music and language. The overlap between language and musical pathways was also exploited to prime linguistic processing with musical primes in healthy subjects and patients. The effect of music stimulation was also found to improve linguistic behavior in deaf children, and new technologies for cochlear implants were developed in order to improve pitch discrimination and subsequently music perception in deaf children. The abilities to synchronize with music and to perform complex rhythms was investigated and formalized with computational models. When possible, these abilities were exploited for the reeducation of motor disabilities.
The present project thus has contributed to pave the way for creating entirely new ways to use music for cognitive and sensory stimulation in brain-damaged patients, which will contribute to develop new music technologies for health and education.