Nearly everyone responds to music with movement


Nearly everyone responds to music with movement, whether through subtle toe-tapping or an all-out boogie. A recent discovery shows that our dance style is almost always the same, regardless of the type of music, and a computer can identify the dancer with astounding accuracy.

Studying how people move to music is a powerful tool for researchers looking to understand how and why music affects us the way it does.

Over the last few years, researchers at the Centre for Interdisciplinary Music Research at the University of Jyväskylä in Finland have used motion capture technology–the same kind used in Hollywood–to learn that your dance moves say a lot about you, such as how extroverted or neurotic you are, what mood you happen to be in, and even how much you empathize with other people.

Recently, however, they discovered something that surprised them. “We actually weren’t looking for this result, as we set out to study something completely different,” explains Dr. Emily Carlson, the first author of the study.

“Our original idea was to see if we could use machine learning to identify which genre of music our participants were dancing to, based on their movements.”

The 73 participants in the study were motion captured dancing to eight different genres: Blues, Country, Dance/Electronica, Jazz, Metal, Pop, Reggae and Rap.

The only instruction they received was to listen to the music and move any way that felt natural.

“We think it’s important to study phenomena as they occur in the real world, which is why we employ a naturalistic research paradigm,” says Professor Petri Toiviainen, the senior author of the study.

The researchers analysed participants’ movements using machine learning, trying to distinguish between the musical genres. Unfortunately, their computer algorithm was able to identify the correct genre less that 30% of the time.

They were shocked to discover, however, that the computer could correctly identify which of the 73 individuals was dancing 94% of the time.

Left to chance (that is, if the computer had simply guessed without any information to go on), the expected accuracy would be less than 2%. “It seems as though a person’s dance movements are a kind of fingerprint,” says Dr. Pasi Saari, co-author of the study and data analyst. “Each person has a unique movement signature that stays the same no matter what kind of music is playing.”

Some genres, however, had more effect on individual dance movements than others. The computer was less accurate in identifying individuals when they were dancing to Metal music.

“There is a strong cultural association between Metal and certain types of movement, like headbanging,” Emily Carlson says. “It’s probable that Metal caused more dancers to move in similar ways, making it harder to tell them apart.”

The computer was less accurate in identifying individuals when they were dancing to Metal music.

Does this mean that face-recognition software will soon be joined by dance-recognition software?

“We’re less interested in applications like surveillance than in what these results tell us about human musicality,” Carlson explains.

“We have a lot of new questions to ask, like whether our movement signatures stay the same across our lifespan, whether we can detect differences between cultures based on these movement signatures, and how well humans are able to recognize individuals from their dance movements compared to computers. Most research raises more questions than answers,” she concludes, “and this study is no exception.”

Dementia is an umbrella term used to describe a group of neurodegenerative disorders that cause a decline in cognitive function, impacting on everyday skills. Currently, dementia affects approximately 50 million people worldwide (Alzheimer’s Disease International).

The most common form of dementia is the Alzheimer’s type, accounting for approximately 70% of cases. The hallmark symptom of Alzheimer’s dementia (AD) is impaired memory. There is no cure for dementia, although certain pharmacological treatments can improve some symptoms (e.g., Howard et al., 2012).

Nevertheless, many of these pharmacological treatments have side effects and are ineffective for some individuals. Therefore, there is a demand for non-pharmacological treatments, especially if such alternative therapies confer behavioral and psychological benefits that are equal to those observed for pharmacological therapies, without any of the adverse events (Dyer et al., 2018).

Music has been used as a therapeutic intervention for people with numerous neurological disorders, particularly in dementia care (for review, see Altenmüller and Schlaug, 2013Thompson and Schlaug, 2015). It has been proposed that the therapeutic value of music may be attributed to seven distinct capacities of music. Namely, that music is persuasive, engaging, emotional, personal, physical, and social, and it affords synchronization (Thompson and Schlaug, 2015).

Together, these capacities comprise a robust blend of affordances that can be used in a therapeutic setting to address many of the symptoms of dementia, such as memory decline, decreased language fluency, and an altered sense of self (Brancatisano and Thompson, in press).

These capacities form the basis of the Therapeutic Music Capacities Model (TMCM, Figure 1), which outlines the capacities and the therapeutic outcomes that arise as a result of their therapeutic potential. We evaluated the efficacy of a newly developed music-based program, the Music, Mind, and Movement (MMM) program, which is based on this model.

An external file that holds a picture, illustration, etc.
Object name is fpsyg-10-01435-g001.jpg
FIGURE 1The Therapeutic Music Capacities Model (TMCM).

There are three fundamental advantages of using music for therapy with people with dementia. Firstly, music is easy to access and deliver as therapy. Particularly with recent advances in technology, music is more ubiquitous than ever before. We have access to thousands of songs, spanning culture and time, in a range of settings, from individual music listening with iPods to group settings.

This makes music suitable to the dementia population since individuals are able to partake in the experience (whether through listening, moving or music making) irrespective of their level of functioning. Furthermore, the negative side effects of such interventions are rare. Negative experiences of music can arise if the music is intrusive or otherwise unappealing (Chang et al., 2010Nair et al., 2011), or if the music reinforces depressive tendencies (Garrido et al., 20172018), but such negative effects tend to be transient and easily managed by removing the individual from the musical source.

Secondly, musical functions, including some forms of musical memory, are often spared in the face of AD, even during the most severe stage. Some of these preserved musical abilities include the detection of wrong notes in familiar songs (Cuddy and Duffin, 2005), learning new songs in both musicians with dementia (Cowles et al., 2003) and non-musicians with dementia (Prickett and Moore, 1991Samson et al., 2009Baird et al., 2017), the ability to detect emotional meaning in music (Drapeau et al., 2009) and show emotional responses to music such as joy (Norberg et al., 2003Baird and Thompson, 2018). These observations of spared music abilities in the face of dementia opened the door to the possibility of using it as a means of therapy in dementia care.

Lastly, music can prime or scaffold other (non-musical) functions. For example, music can stimulate autobiographical memory (e.g., Irish et al., 2006Baird et al., 2018). It also engages the individual in new learning, exercise and cognitive training, and thus can reinforce the processes of ‘neural scaffolding.’ This is a process, originally defined by Park and Reuter-Lorenz (2009) in their ‘Scaffolding Theory of Aging and Cognition’ (STAC) model, which explains how life-course factors can enhance or deplete neural resources, influencing the developmental course of cognition and brain function.

The STAC model proposes that as individuals age, certain enriching factors may enable ‘compensatory scaffolding’ to occur, which may protect against cognitive decline. In the face of dementia, neuropathology may undermine the brain’s ability to provide effective compensation. Music and its broad network of capacities can engage brain regions that are involved in neural scaffolding, such as frontal areas that are relatively preserved in people with the most common type of dementia, AD.

In the last decade music-based activities have been implemented as a way of alleviating negative symptomology associated with dementia (primarily for AD), such as agitation (Raglio et al., 2010), anxiety (Sung et al., 20102012) and depression (Ray and Mittelman, 2017). Further, cognitive function has been shown to improve during or immediately after music-based treatments (Van de Winckel et al., 2004Chu et al., 2014Särkämö et al., 2014).

There have been two Cochrane reviews that have examined the effectiveness of music interventions for behavioral, emotional and cognitive outcomes in people with dementia (Vink et al., 2003Van der Steen et al., 2017). Vink et al. (2003) included ten randomized control trials (RCTs) and the second, more recently, by Van der Steen et al. (2017) included 17 RCTs. Vink et al. (2003) stated that no conclusions could be drawn as the quality of methods was poor overall.

The later 2017 study was able to conclude that the evidence was ‘moderately strong’ to support the use of music to improve symptoms of depression, but not agitation or aggression. Evidence that music can improve mood, cognition, anxiety and social interaction was low, with issues such as risk of bias and small sample sizes. Thus, whilst there is support for music as a treatment for certain symptoms of dementia, ambiguity exists surrounding its effectiveness for various other symptoms of dementia.

Part of the reason for this ambiguity may be the multitude of different ways music is used therapeutically. Music interventions range from traditional music therapy, an evidence-based practice involving a trained music therapist, to music-based programs led by a musician or facilitator with no music training. These music-based programs can involve listening to music (receptive) or music making (active), such as singing or using an instrument.

The music used in these interventions can be researcher or participant chosen depending on the outcome desired, such as using personal music to promote reminiscence. In addition, these activities can be experienced either individually or in a group. Each of these modes of therapies has a variety of beneficial effects.

Active music therapy in a group setting has been shown to improve general cognition, measured using the Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE, Bruer et al., 2007Chu et al., 2014), and specific cognition functions, such as verbal fluency (Brotons and Koger, 2000Lyu et al., 2018). Group music therapy has also demonstrated benefits by reducing associated symptoms of dementia such as depression (Chu et al., 2014) and agitation (Raglio et al., 2010Lin et al., 2011Vink et al., 2013Tsoi et al., 2018). Group music-based treatments (as distinct from music therapy), such as music listening and making or moving to music, have also been shown to improve overall cognition (Van de Winckel et al., 2004Särkämö et al., 2014Cheung et al., 2018Tang et al., 2018), in addition to specific cognitive functions, such as attention and various executive functions (Särkämö et al., 2014) verbal fluency and memory (Cheung et al., 2018). I

nterestingly, group music- based activities designed specifically for cognitive stimulation in older adults with and without cognitive decline have been shown to offer greater benefits for cognition (measured using the MMSE) and executive function (such as verbal fluency and attention tasks) than physical activity alone (Biasutti and Mangiacotti, 2018). As with music therapy, group music-based treatments can also reduce symptoms of apathy (Tang et al., 2018), agitation (Choi et al., 2009Ho et al., 2018) and depression (Ashida, 2000). Additionally, individualized music treatments, such as the use of personalized playlists, have been used to encourage cessation of antipsychotic medication (Thomas et al., 2017). Overall, it is clear that music has a multitude of ways in which it interacts as a therapeutic context for people with dementia.

Many interventions for people with dementia contain some of the same therapeutic qualities as music. For example, cooking and art therapy are engaging and social, and can invite personal reflection. In some instances, these therapies have offered similar benefits to music-based therapies. In one study, a cooking intervention and music intervention (involving singing and instrument playing) resulted in similar short-term reduction of behavioral disorders in people with AD (Narme et al., 2014), but it was only the music intervention that continued to have this effect long term. Other forms of therapy do not include some of music’s additional qualities that may lead to its extra therapeutic benefits. For example, music allows us to synchronize our actions, which promotes social bonding. Music can also induce spontaneous movement, which may confer cognitive benefits (Verghese et al., 2003). In addition, music has the innate ability to move us emotionally in the same manner as other stimuli that affect the hedonic centers in the brain, such as food and drugs (Blood and Zatorre, 2001). It is this combination of a number of capacities that makes music an ‘all in one’ therapeutic approach. Whilst this is one of music’s strengths, it also makes it a complex treatment tool to understand experimentally.

Experimental and review studies are contributing significant knowledge to devising successful music programs to improve dementia related symptoms. The majority of this research, however, has not identified the various capacities by which music can confer beneficial therapeutic effects. Moreover, there is no overarching theoretical model of the therapeutic value of music. To address this issue, Thompson and Schlaug (2015) proposed seven capacities of music that explain why it may be an ideal treatment tool for neurological disorders such as dementia. These seven capacities extend the framework outlined by MacDonald et al. (2012) who described ten qualities of music that may account for the links between music, health and wellbeing. As described in detail below, the seven capacities are that music is engaging, emotional, physical, personal, social, persuasive and permits synchronization. Each capacity represents a class of active ingredients of music-based treatments, and can be further analyzed into more concrete ingredients of effective interventions. Understanding these capacities, and associated active ingredients, should lead to more effective music interventions for people with dementia.

The Seven Capacities of Music

Music is engaging. Music activates multiple systems in the brain simultaneously, including frontal, parietal, temporal, and cerebellar regions to deeper subcortical structures (e.g., Blood and Zatorre, 2001Zatorre and Salimpoor, 2013). By engaging multiple processes, it places the brain in an ‘enriched’ and challenging setting, triggering neuroplasticity. In addition, by casting a ‘wide net’ of engagement, this offers multiple opportunities for addressing deficits. In particular, music can facilitate the encoding of verbal material by enhancing neural coherence during new learning (Peterson and Thaut, 2007). Whilst healthy individuals may not need to rely on music-enhanced encoding because they have intact cortical structures for memory, the mnemonic benefits provided by music may be necessary for individuals with AD (Kilgour et al., 2000). In effect, music provides a comprehensive, neurological scaffold for memory. Music also captures our attention such that we are likely to pursue the therapy in an undistracted manner, thereby reaping maximum benefits.

Music is emotional. One of the most significant purposes of music is to convey emotional meaning. Some brain regions involved in emotion processing, namely the medial frontal areas are relatively spared from degeneration in AD (Jacobsen et al., 2015). The ability of music to heighten emotions can be utilized to reduce apathy (loss of interest and a lack of or blunted emotional responses) in people with moderate to severe AD (Massaia et al., 2018Tang et al., 2018). Receptive music-based treatments have been shown to significantly improve apathy (Massaia et al., 2018Tang et al., 2018) and increase smiling behaviors compared to a control intervention of standard care (Raglio et al., 2008). Music also plays an important role in re-gaining access to emotions and memories, particularly in people with AD (e.g., El Haj et al., 2012Baird et al., 2018). Interestingly, episodic memories evoked by music in people with AD tend to contain more emotional content and are more positively valanced, than episodic memories evoked in silence (El Haj et al., 2012Cuddy et al., 2017), implying that the effects of music can benefit people with AD not only by eliciting memories, but also by inducing a positive state of mind.

Music is inherently a very physical stimulus. It is hard to separate the experiences of music and movement, and when we hear certain types of music we get a strong urge to move our body to the music. Engaging in physical exercise has been known to delay the onset of dementia (for review, see Laurin et al., 2001Larson et al., 2006Carvalho et al., 2014). Furthermore, in a longitudinal review over 5 years, engagement in leisure activities, such as dancing, reduced the risk of dementia (Verghese et al., 2003). Interventions that have paired music and exercise in people with dementia have reported a decrease in depression, as well as improvements in specific cognitive functions such as verbal fluency and memory (e.g., Cheung et al., 2018). Exercise and its associated benefits for memory may be accompanied by an increase in the production of brain derived neurotrophic factor which mediates neurogenesis (Erickson et al., 2011). Pairing music and movement therefore encourages exercise and subsequently benefits cognition, mood, and behavior.

Music affords synchronization. We have an instinctive ability to synchronize our body’s movements, and speech, to music. Simply moving in time with one another to music has many positive therapeutic benefits. For example, in synchronous drumming there is a release of endorphins and neurochemicals that are responsible for feelings of social bonding, empathy, and trust (Tarr et al., 2014). The tendency to move in time to music may assist in learning new movement sequences in people with AD (Moussard et al., 2014). Music treatments that have emphasized synchronizing the playing of musical instruments have resulted in improvement in cognitive functions such as verbal fluency, supported by neuroimaging results which demonstrate an increase in the level of cerebral blood flow to the prefrontal cortex (Shimizu et al., 2017).

Music is personal through its ability to reinforce our sense of self as it is commonly linked with our identity. Music that is heard repeatedly during significant or pivotal times in our personal development eventually seems to signify that time of life. There is increasing interest in using personalized playlists as a therapeutic tool for people with dementia (Garrido et al., 2017). Levels of agitation have been reported to decrease after listening to personally preferred music compared to relaxing classical music (Gerdner, 2000). Preferred music listening interventions can also reduce anxiety levels in people with dementia compared to standard care with no music (Sung and Chang, 2005Sung et al., 2010). Familiar music can also be used to help people with dementia become more oriented within a new environment or maximize their sense of familiarity in a current one (Son et al., 2002).

Music is social. Isolation is one of the most significant challenges associated with dementia, owing to the decline in behavioral and cognitive functions. Music acts as a catalyst for bringing people together and also enhances group experiences.

The social nature of music may be beneficial in boosting the healing process via cohesion, collective enjoyment and a sense of support for one another. Improvements have been demonstrated in cognitive functions (e.g., attention), behavior, mood, and wellbeing after participating in group singing and music activities (Sakamoto et al., 2013Narme et al., 2014Särkämö et al., 2014). Importantly, many people with dementia also indicate that group singing helped them to accept and cope with their condition (Osman et al., 2016).

Music is persuasive, and belief in a treatment is crucial for participation, motivation, and recovery. The positive belief in a treatment may make participating in therapy more likely (Rosenstock, 1974). In other words, merely believing that a treatment will lead to positive outcomes can amplify the therapeutic benefits.

Music has the capacity to persuade or influence us and has been used historically as a tool to reinforce, change or inspire beliefs. For example, messages in advertisements or political movements are highlighted and enriched by music. It is persuasive also in the sense that the sheer enjoyment it stimulates leads to an optimistic outlook, which is beneficial in a therapeutic setting.

We have taken these seven capacities of music and developed the TMCM (Figure 1) (Brancatisano and Thompson, in press). The model begins by identifying contexts in which music can be experienced in a therapeutic way, previously identified by MacDonald et al. (2012). These contexts are broken down into the seven capacities that form the core of the model.

A number of biological and psychological processes are then listed that may underlie the link between the seven individual capacities of music and their beneficial outcomes. Finally, arising from the seven capacities through the underlying mechanisms are multiple potential benefits, including cognitive, psychosocial, motor, and behavioral benefits. As it stands, most music-based treatments or music therapy practices incorporate one or more of these attributes, but not all. These capacities have not yet been combined to form an intervention in a systematic way, which may in turn maximize the effect of a music-based intervention.

We devised the MMM program based on the TMCM. The MMM program was then evaluated in people with dementia to (a) determine the potential benefits that including all seven capacities of music would have on the participants’ cognition, mood, identity and motor function, (b) examine the impact that certain individual or a combination of capacities would have on the participants’ cognition, mood, identity and motor function, and (c) explore the relationship between factors which may affect session attendance and cognitive performance.

University of Jyvaskyla


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Questo sito usa Akismet per ridurre lo spam. Scopri come i tuoi dati vengono elaborati.