Brain change through music listening! It can happen. But how? The research and ideas of neuroscientist Ani Patel, PhD help us understand. According to Dr. Patel, who studies music and language, music processing has the potential to meet five essential conditions which engage adaptive plasticity in speech processing networks (Patel, 2011). He refers to them collectively as OPERA. inTime, along with other The Listening Program® products, meets these conditions.
Research has found musical training to affect structural and neurochemical brain change, and to positively influence several aspects of speech processing (i.e. auditory attention, auditory figure ground, phonological processing, enhanced sensitivity to vocal affect and speech intonation, and auditory working memory). Recognizing that music and speech are both forms of communication that depend upon experience-based brain change within auditory networks, a theory of how music processing can affect speech processing provides us with a strong model for considering the “how’s” related to music-listening and changes in other areas.
OPERA conditions include overlap, precision, emotion, repetition and attention (Patel, 2011, 2014). How music processing associated with inTime may be affecting change in speech processing is a discussion of cross-domain plasticity, or change in neural processing in one domain (in this case, speech processing) stimulated by experience in another (inTime music listening, beat/pulse & rhythm activities).
Overlap is the first of the conditions needed for adaptive cross-domain plasticity. Acoustic features (as opposed to perceptual attributes) important to both speech and music must be processed by anatomical overlapping networks in brain. The overlap between processing acoustic elements in music and in speech exists in subcortical structures of the auditory pathway. inTime, with its organic emphasis on enhancing acoustic features, particularly time and frequency, stimulates these overlapping networks.
Precision, the second condition, specifies that for the neural encoding of speech to be influenced by musical training, music must place higher demands on the nervous system than speech does in terms of the precision needed for the sound stimulus to be represented within the nervous system. Based on his own review of research, including research related to pitch perception and timing, Dr. Patel believes that this is so, that music can place a higher demand on the system for the precision of encoding of acoustic features than what is demanded for speech processing. Both the percussion and combined instrumental sections of inTime, offer the listener musical sequences abundant with variations in duration, intensity and tone within a complex yet accessible polymetric and polyrhythmic structure. With this structure we believe the nervous system demands are high, but opportunities for brain and body to sync up with the beat/pulse are readily and naturally available.
Emotion, Repetition and Attention are an essential combination in promoting plasticity. A strong emotional response to the musical experience/stimulation is rewarding to the listener and to the listener’s brain. Focused attention enhances the encoding of particular acoustic features via cortical-subcortical and other descending connections. Repetition, critical both in terms of input and output, helps form connections. Recognizing the value of emotional reward, the music of inTime was designed to feel good. We want listeners to love to listen! In addition to the general appeal of the World Music genre, balance between novelty and familiarity and between predictability and surprise, and puzzles presented both rhythmically and spectrally, serve to emotionally engage and motivate the listener. Attention while listening to inTime music is supported primarily by the use of percussive sound and through deliberate use of contrast in both volume and sound frequencies, as well as through emotional reward. Listening is scheduled over the span of a few to several months for the purposes of repetition and duration with ongoing steady beat and rhythmic influences to develop and sustain synchrony.
Dr. Patel’s OPERA hypothesis, as related to speech processing, helps us understand how inTime can be used to affect interaction. Lasting change in brain structure and function in response to music stimulation that activates key neural networks, calls for processing at comparatively high levels, feels good, evokes our attention, and continues over time…neural plasticity! …inTime and OPERA.
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Read inTime and OPERA??- Yes!… Believe It or Not! (Part 1)
– Sheila Allen is a co-creator and co-producer of inTime and a licensed occupational therapist who co-directs Pediatric Therapeutics, LLC, a children’s therapy center in Chatham, NJ.