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Music and Brain Development
The link is recognized by Georgia Head Start program
Recently, the Georgia Head start organization began distributing CD's with classical music on them to every newborn child's mother as part of a program designed to aid in the early childhood development of children's intelligence. Some applaud Governor Zell Miller's push to establish this program as a step in the direction of improving the health and well being of a future generation. Others, citing disagreements with the research behind the program, doubt as to whether this program is beneficial to children, or just a bureaucratic waste of time. This paper will research the date behind the initiative, attempt to evaluate the desires of those who support and oppose the initiative, and then consider changes in the policy which may further aid the mental and social development of newborn children.
Governor Zell Miller was instrumental in establishing Georgia's policy. Influenced by that proposed a connection between listening to classical music and increased mathematics and spatial reasoning ability, the governor asked for $105,000 to produce and distribute a classical music to parents of newborns. Gov. Miller's initiative is one of the best-known examples of how to translate research into public policy. Specifically, the research that suggests
Four years prior, the Carnegie Foundation released a 1994 paper called "Starting Points: Meeting the Needs of Our Youngest Children." (pbs.org)
The document warned that the United States was facing a "quiet crisis" due to inadequate child care and the high cost of children's health care, and drew upon five key neuroscience findings to make its recommendations:
the brain's development between the prenatal period and the first year of life was more extensive than previously thought;
brain development is more susceptible to early environmental influences than previously thought;
early environmental influences on the brain are long-lasting;
early environmental influences affect the way that the brain is "hard-wired"; and early stress has been proven to have a negative impact on brain function. (Carnegie.org)
At the national level, the milestone for zero-to-three advocates was the White House Conference on Early Development and Learning on April 17, 1997.The conference invited scientists, child development experts, and others to discuss the latest neuroscience findings in children's brain development. President Clinton was inspired enough by the research to include a policy plug in the same years "State of the Union" address.
Learning begins in the first days of life. Scientists are now discovering how young children develop emotionally and intellectually from their very first days, and how important it is for parents to begin immediately talking, singing, even reading to their infants... We already know we should start teaching children before they start school." President Clinton
During the same period, another organization called The Music Intelligence Neural Development (M.I.N.D. ®) Institute was established by the team of scientists. They performed ground breaking research specifically utilizing music as a window into higher brain function. At the core of this research, MIND formulated a structured model that makes clear direct linear linkage between the relationship of music and the neural machinery of human brain. Results from behavioral studies confirming these predictions have received world-wide attention. (Mind institute, online)
The primary educational project, the "Music Spatial-Temporal Math Program" combines research among elementary school students by using three tools: music (piano keyboard) training, computer games that utilize a spatial-temporal approach to math concepts, and a high-level math curriculum that integrates with the standard classroom material. Using what the Mind Institute calls the "trion model of the cortex" (mind institute, online), Leng and Shaw predicted a causal relationship, in which music enhanced spatial-temporal reasoning. Although specific brain functions crucially depend on different cortical areas, many cortical areas are involved in each higher brain function at some important level which were stimulate by the utilization of music training
Other studies have demonstrated that sophisticated cognitive musical abilities and reasoning are present even in infants. Leng and Shaw proposed that music is a "pre-language" available at an early age to access the brain's inherent firing patterns and enhance the ability to do spatial-temporal reasoning.
The heart of the research revolves around the way music stimulates the brain, and brain development and growth. A child who cannot yet form words and sentences can hear and be motivated by music. The stimulation in turn created new brain activity. According to Debra Prigge (2002), "Music can affect pulse, blood pressure, muscle tension, and brain waves. Use upbeat music for transition times, and use classical or instrumental music for group work, testing, and other "quiet time" work. Research on music and learning has shown that music that plays at or near 60 beats per minute improves learning and memory, actually slowing down brain waves and increasing optimum functioning."
Raucher and Shaw were some of the first to formalize the connection between music and brain development and performance. A, according to these studies, children are born with 100 billion unconnected or loosely connected neurons, or nerve cells. Every experience, every interaction, and every perceived input into the child's life strengthens or forges the links between cells. These brain cells can be thought of as individual plants growing in a garden. As the nerve cells are stimulated, the cells grow individual feelers and tentacles which reach out and interphase with other cells. While most children are born with a similar number of brain cells, it is the interconnectedness which determines the "intelligence" of the individual. The sells grow dendrites, and the dendrites put out finger like axions that create a neural network. Thought is an electrical - chemical process which occurs between the cells across the dendrites. If pathways in the brain go unused, it will eventually wither away. (this is the physiological process occurring in elderly Alzheimer's patients) Thus, a child's early experiences can help determine what that child will be like in adulthood.
The research of Rausher and Shaw was based on the initial belief that music learning, in some shape or form, may count among the kinds of experiences that lead to long-term changes in the brain's hard wiring neural development. Using a group of 84 college students, they demonstrated that listening to a Mozart piano sonata for 10 minutes improved the students' spatial-temporal reasoning skills. The students increased their ability to form mental images from physical objects, or to see abstract patterns in space and time. These skills are key to engineers and architects, and form the basis for understanding proportion, geometry, and other mathematical and scientific concepts.
The team tested further the idea a few years later, this time as part of a more comprehensive investigation involving 78 children from three California preschools. (Edweek.org) The children were divided into four groups
Group one of preschool age children took private, 12- to 15-minute piano lessons each week.
Group two took 30-minute singing lessons five days a week, third group was trained on computers using spatial reasoning programs and activities
The remaining control group of children received no special lessons.
All of the children took tests designed to measure a range of spatial abilities both at the start of the experiment and again six to eight months later. By the end of the study period, the piano-trained children had improved their scores by 34% on a task requiring them to put together a puzzle of a camel. "What we think music is doing is stabilizing the neural connections necessary for this kind of spatial-temporal ability," says Ms. Rauscher, who is now an assistant professor of cognitive development at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh. Rauscher completed similar research in 1997, and came to the same conclusions..".. The children's ability to perform the task improved by almost forty percent. In fact, "the magnitude of the improvement in spatial-temporal reasoning from music training was greater than one standard deviation, equivalent to an increase from the 50th percentile...to above the 85th percentile" in a standardized spatial intelligence test" (Watling, 1998)
In another study, Dr. Gottfried Schlaug, a Harvard Medical School neurology instructor, completed a series of experiments using magnetic-resonance-imaging technology to examine the brains of musicians who took up their instruments before age 7, musicians who started later, and non-musicians. He discovered that certain regions of the brain were larger in musicians who started their musical training before age 7.. (edweek.org).
From the outside of the debate, one would wonder why this research or implementing policy based on this research would be opposed. If the possibilities exist to improve the educational and mental capabilities of young children, these steps should become paramount to an educational system which is struggling to create positive progress for the nation's children. From Zell Miller's point-of-view and those who promote the Zero - to - three initiative, this simple though is at the core of their motivation. However, not all scientists agree that Rausher's science is accurate. Still others want to maintain the integrity of music education for music's sake, and not allow it to become the means to another educational end.
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