Higher musical aptitude appears to be linked to a reduced risk for experiencing hallucinations, according to a new U.K. study published in the journal Schizophrenia Research. This reduced tendency toward hallucinations may be due to a particular difference in the brain structure of musicians.
Earlier research has found that musicians have increased white matter integrity in a specific region of the brain called the corpus callosum, a thick band of nerve fibers that connects the left and right halves of the brain, allowing communication between the hemispheres. The primary function of the corpus callosum is to integrate motor, sensory, and cognitive performances between the two sides.
In contrast, the integrity of the corpus callosum has been found to be reduced in psychotic individuals with auditory verbal hallucinations.
For the new study, researchers from the psychological sciences department at the University of Liverpool in England recruited 38 healthy individuals aged between 18 and 63 and tested their propensity to hallucinate as well as their musical aptitude. They also analyzed their detailed brain structure using an MRI scanner.
The scientists found that participants with higher musical aptitude were less prone to having hallucinations. More importantly, the study showed that musical aptitude was positively associated with corpus callosum integrity whereas hallucination proneness was tied to a reduced integrity in the fibers connecting the two hemispheres of the brain.
A statistical analysis showed that the relationship between hallucination proneness and musical aptitude is mediated by microstructure in the corpus callosum.
“These results could have important clinical implications. If musical aptitude increases the white matter integrity of the corpus callosum, musical training could potentially counteract an individual’s predisposition of hallucinations,” said researcher Amy Spray. “Future research should address whether rehabilitation approaches that include musical training can benefit patients with psychosis.”
Spray’s research has focused on the effects of musical training on the brain. She has looked at links between musical training and language processing and has also assessed the presence of any microstructural changes that occur following just a short duration of musical training.
It is estimated that approximately three in 100 people will experience psychosis at some time in their lives. Each year, around 100,000 adolescents and young adults in the United States will have a first psychotic episode. This may involve hallucinations that are visual, auditory, olfactory or sensory, disordered thoughts and speech, and/or paranoia or delusions.
Source: University of Liverpool