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The Influence of Neuroengineering of Music on Society

The Presynaptic Project department at Simply Neuroscience ran a one week, virtual summer camp for high school students interested in neuroscience from August 8th to August 14th. Students were split into groups and created outcome projects, writing pieces, graphic designs and presentations that answered the question, "How is neuroscience being used to improve society?" One team's article stood above the rest, winning the opportunity to be featured on Simply Neuroscience's blog. To see why, read on.

Authors: Ashmita Valli, Asmita Anand, Vivian Bui, Laila Awan, Srinija Devaraju, Damilola Adeosun

Editor: Raayan Dhar

You are watching an online concert, and your favorite artist is performing. Everyone is screaming and dancing to the songs. You sit at your desk, listening to your favorite playlist at low volume through your headphones. As the music surrounds you, your feet tap along to the beat of the songs. Physically, you experience the reactions caused by the music. In fact, music improves and changes brain functions in all types of people. The impact of music is under the scope of neuroscience and plays a fundamental part in improving societal outlook. The multidisciplinary aspect of the field incorporates different technologies and ideas to present novel betterments to society. When coupled with engineering, neuroscience research utilizes various technologies to support and improve the everyday lives of diverse individuals. Brain-machine interfaces (BMIs), a prominent neuroengineering technology, analyze and translate neural processes into instructions for software devices. The device translates neural commands to perform specific actions. One of the most significant relationships to this technology is its application with music. Brain-computer music interfaces (BCMIs) encourage responses from patients after listening to music, assisting researchers in understanding the role of music in the brain. Neuroengineering technologies, such as BMIs, influence society positively as they provide innovative methods to understand music’s impact on the brain and facilitate connections through emotions and activities amongst disabled and non-disabled individuals.

Music evokes different emotions within a person based on their perceived connections. It affects the brain on a deeper level, as evidence depicts the high functionality of brains with neurodegenerative diseases from musical mechanisms. For instance, MRIs illustrate the significant effects on the human brain: sections of the brain “light up” when a patient with Alzheimer’s listens to their favorite tune. According to a study directed by neuroscientist Kiminobu Sugaya, Alzheimer’s patients are generally unresponsive in their later stages. However, through the introduction of headphones that play [their favorite] music, their eyes light up because the emotional memories associated with music never fade out (Music with the Mind: The Brain-Computer-Music-Interface, 2011). Because of its significant impact, music incorporated with brain-machine interfaces promotes self-expression and communication. Artistic rather than scientific objectives drove the conceptions behind BCMI technology. It was not until Alvin Lucier’s public demonstration in 1965 entitled “Music for Solo Performer” that the concept to manipulate human brain activity into sound was deemed possible. In his performance, Lucier amplified alpha waves (8 – 13Hz) via EEG producing simple neurofeedback; increasing the alpha wave amplitude directly increased the intensity of the instruments’ resonance (Eaton & Miranda, 2013). Following Lucier’s example, many artists have exploited brain waves to compose music, which demonstrates the large range of brain functions that music can manipulate.


CMIs impact society in numerous ways. Though presumed to be used mainly in medical aspects, BCMI technologies advertise themselves to gaming audiences, music listeners, and developers through platforms such as Muse, NeuroSky, and Emotiv. BCMIs are prospectively advantageous for the world of entertainment or media as well, as the technology allows one’s creativity to accomplish many significant feats. Various assistive technologies mainly revolve around restoring function for day-to-day activities and do not notice the decrease in creativity in disabled individuals. BCMIs aid in restoring this creativity because it serves as foundational and distinctive drivers of human evolution (Davis, 2020). Furthermore, creativity helps build creative resilience, which is significant in helping one cope with the pressure of complex changes. Consider “locked-in syndrome,” which leaves the patient fully paralyzed and isolated, completely unable to communicate. A certain degree of resilience can be beneficial to tackle the various obstacles that the patient will have to face. The need to be resilient enhances the brain’s plasticity, which eventually brings in creativity to help cope in this dire situation. This creative resilience, combined with the brain-computer music interface, serves as a creative outlet for those diagnosed with certain disabilities, as they can now communicate freely through their emotions. Therefore, when music is implemented in neuroengineering, technology that properly accommodates the needs of patients can be developed.

Neurodegenerative diseases have unfavorably impacted the lives of many individuals around the world. Since these diseases cause the nervous system to deteriorate, bodily functions gradually decrease as well. Patients with neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and locked-in syndrome tend to be left neglected in modern society. Although the effects are short-term, music can guide these patients to feel expressive and improve mood, behavior, and cognitive functionalities. Alternatively, medical personnel can utilize BCMI technology with music creation as communicative aids for patients suffering from neurodegenerative conditions, particularly Asperger’s syndrome (Williams & Miranda, 2018). Other BCMI clinical applications include Affective Brain-computer music interface (aBCMI) technology, which acts as a personalized form of music therapy. One way this is positively impacting society is through improving Parkinson’s disease symptoms. This has both mood and cognitive-boosting benefits, bettering the patient’s quality of life (Music Therapy for Parkinson’s disease | APDA, 2019). aBCMI technology can also be used in emotional music selection. A user’s affective state can be passively modulated by identifying their current state and then accordingly creating a personalized music experience using their brain data. This data includes a recording of their EEG and physiological signals using a BrainAmp amplifier (Daly et al., 2016).

In essence, the impact of music on an individual can be applied through neuroengineering technologies to improve situations for a multitude of individuals and society as whole. BCMIs help enhance the creativity and mood of an individual as the technology allows people to more freely express themselves. Various BMI and BCMI technologies are utilized in clinical practices to enhance patient prognosis in neurodegenerative disease environments. So, the next time you continue to “jam” along to your favorite songs, consider the various implementations music and neuroengineering helps you and individuals worldwide. It could inspire you to influence novel applications of neuroscience in our society today.


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