“Music can heal the wounds, that medicine cannot touch.” – Debashish Mridha
What do you do when you’re stressed? What do you do when you’re about to blow up with anger? What do you do when you want to feel calm? The answer that covers all three questions is music. Music is said to be an innate feature. We see babies responding to music earlier than they respond to speech. We see kids learning tunes and rhythms faster than they learn speech. No wonder music is believed to be a universal language.
Music, directly and indirectly, has a very huge impact on our attitudes, mood, decisions, cognition, and mental health. A lot of research has been revolving around how music affects our brain in particular. The interest in the effects of music on the brain has led to a new branch of research called neuromusicology which explores how the nervous system reacts to music. Using neuromusicology, and other technological advancements, researchers have found how music enhances the brains of people with schizophrenia in a positive way.
Schizophrenia can be explained as a severe and chronic disorder, that is characterized by disturbances in thought, perception, and behavior. Schizophrenia may end in some combination of hallucinations, delusions, and extremely disordered thinking and behavior that impairs daily functioning, and can be disabling. People with this disorder often don’t behave the way the majority do towards others. They also may lose touch with reality and may not be ready to tell what is real and what isn’t. Some common signs include strange beliefs, unclear or confused thinking and language, poor interaction with others, hallucinations less expression of feelings, and not doing much.
Positive symptoms add (hence called positive) –
- Delusions – false beliefs that stay stable even when presented with facts contradictory of the beliefs
- Hallucinations: perception of things even when stimuli are absent (tactile, auditory, olfactory, and gustatory) – including hearing voices, seeing things
- Thought Disorders- dysfunctional thinking
- Movement Disorders- unusual body movements
Negative symptoms take away (hence called negative) –
- Flat affectivity
- Dull speaking, monotone, disconnected from reality
- Inability to start or follow through with activities
- Lack of motivation
- Poverty of Speech (i.e., speaking less)
- Little to no interest in life or relationships
- Inability to grasp information and use it for decision-making purposes
- Problems with memory; especially working memory
- Trouble in being attentive or focused
- Disorganized thinking, thoughts, and speech
- Lack of Insight (anosognosia) – where the affected individual has no awareness
Now, coming to the causes, there aren’t any concrete causes for this disorder. However, researchers believe that an interplay of genetics, brain chemicals, and environmental conditions contribute to the development of the disorder.
Let’s focus on the brain structure of people with schizophrenia. Differences are shown in the brain structure and central nervous system of people with schizophrenia through neuroimaging. People with schizophrenia are said to have lesser activity in the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for logical and organized thinking. This explains why people with schizophrenia suffer from delusions; they are not able to think logically which reinforces the false beliefs, i.e., the delusions.
There is found about 5% reduction in the volume of the temporal lobe in people with schizophrenia. Studies have also shown that the brain activity in the auditory and visual cortices of a person with schizophrenia while having hallucinations, is the same as the brain activity in those areas while experiencing something real. This indicates that hallucinations are as real to a person with schizophrenia as reality.
Researchers have also found out that people with schizophrenia have a smaller volume of amygdala. Amygdala is that part of the brain which controls our emotions and feelings. This explains why people with schizophrenia have a problem in the expression of emotions. It’s because they’re simply not able to feel emotions.
Another brain structure that is different in schizophrenic patients is the hippocampus, which is said to be 5% lesser in volume. Hippocampus is responsible for producing and retrieving a memory, and also in emotion regulation. This would explain why they have flat affectivity and problems with working memory and episodic memory.
Music is said to have a strong effect on the brain structure and brain chemistry. For this is very reason, music therapy for schizophrenia patients is becoming popular. Music therapy includes methods and procedures that are used for people with various disorders through musical experiences, that invoke various aspects of the mind, brain, body, and behavior. Music therapy can include, playing an instrument, singing, improvising, and also listening to music.
Researchers discovered that increased connectivity in the interior of the insula enhances the mood with a decrease in anxiety, isolation, pain, and stress in schizophrenic patients, by listening to music. A lot of research has proven that music therapy can help with schizophrenia to improve their global state, hallucinations, and negative symptoms, like emotional withdrawal in particular. Studies have proven that music successfully activates the amygdala and the hippocampus, which are responsible for our emotions and also memory. If these parts are activated, then people with schizophrenia can start manifesting their emotions at least to some extent. There is evidence that music can change brain structure that otherwise might be damaged in cases of PTSD, depression, dementia, and schizophrenia.
An experiment was carried out where the patients with schizophrenia listened to individualized music using an MP3 player whenever they had auditory hallucinations. The findings suggest that listening to music may be useful for managing auditory hallucinations in schizophrenia inpatients.
It is important to emphasize that it is more effective when it acts as an add-on treatment to standard care. For example, music therapy will be more effective for schizophrenic patients if it is given alongside another therapy, like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). A lot of schizophrenic patients seem rather satisfied with music therapy as they claim it has aided psychotherapy in improving their condition. After all, going back to the quote I had mentioned earlier, music can heal the wounds that medicine cannot touch.