Music and dance are the oldest cultures in human civilization. Both of these arts play an important role to build up our mind and body in a harmonic way.
The universal desire to make music and move along to it has been carried through into modern arts and culture. Though some children may dread their trumpet tutorial and others would rather play their Xbox than attend ballet lessons, anew study shows that our parents were right all along. The latest findings demonstrate that music and dance can make significant neurological changes.
The scientists from the International Laboratory for Brain, Music, and Sound Research in Montreal, Canada, recently set out to understand what changes within the brain music and dance might produce, and how they compare with each other.
The previous researches have shown that music training from a young age can make changes to pathways within the brain.
Again a review published in 2014 concluded that the clearest changes that musical training makes in the brain are to the connections that run between the two hemispheres (the corpus callosum). But the brains of dancers have received much less scientific attention.
Music and dance both the skills involve intense training, musicianship primarily concentrates on auditory and motor information where as dance focuses on integrating visual, auditory and motor coordination.
Scanning of musician and dancer brains
An advanced scanning/imaging technique called diffusion tensor imaging, the research team looked in detail at the white matter structure of dancers, musicians, and individuals with training in neither.
The differences between dancers and musicians were more marked than perhaps might be expected.
"We found that dancers and musicians differed in many white matter regions,including sensory and motor pathways, both at the primary and higher cognitive levels of processing”, says the main scientist Chiara Giacosa.
All of the pathways which were most affected were bundles of fibers that link the sensory and motor regions of the brain and the fibers of the corpus callosum that run between the hemispheres.
In the dancers, these sets of connections were broader (more diffuse); in musicians, these same connections were stronger, but less diffuse, and showed more coherent fiber bundles.
As stated by Giacosa: "This suggests that dance and music training affect the brain in opposite directions, increasing global connectivity and crossing of fibers in dance training, and strengthening specific pathways in music training."
The cause of white matters differences
The differences observed may be because dancers train their whole body, which has a"broader representation in the neural cortex," encouraging fibers to cross over and increase in size; whereas musicians tend to focus their training on specific body parts such as the fingers or mouth, which will have smaller cortical representations in the brain.
Furthermore,the exciting outcome was that dancers and musicians differed more from each other than when compared with the group of untrained control subjects.
This could be for a number of reasons, as Giacosa explains: "(...) our samples of dancers and musicians were specifically selected to be pure groups of experts, which make it easier to differentiate between them." On the other hand, the control group was a more diverse group with a range of interests and life experiences.
The outcome of the study is not just interesting; they could have effects for education and rehabilitation. According to senior author Prof. Virginia Penhune:
"Understanding how dances and music training differently affect brain networks will allow us to selectively use them to enhance their functioning or compensate for difficulties and diseases that involve those specific brain networks."
Dance and music therapy is being investigated for its potential use in the treatment of diseases such as Parkinson's and autism.
Some studies have already shown how music training at a young age can improve various cognitive skills, but dance has yet to be used in a similar way.
"Recent research has started to show some improvements with dance and music therapy in patients affected by Parkinson's disease and children with autism respectively, but much more can be done with these and other diseases," says Prof. Penhune.