Music and the Arts Promote Heathy Cognitive Function

A session entitled “Arts, Music, and the Brain: How the Arts Influence Us from Youth to Maturity” drew a standing room only crowd in a late afternoon session on Tuesday at the Society for Neuroscience conference in San Diego.

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Four speakers came at the topic from slightly different angles. The common denominator: In addition to anecdotal evidence and common sense, improved imaging and sound wave technology has helped neuroscientists demonstrate that arts and music boost cognitive function across social economic class, age, gender, and ethnicity.

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Science Meets Art in New Kandel Book

Creativity (2).jpgWe don’t typically think of science and art as rooted in similar methodologies or techniques. Science is considered a strict, fact-based study of the world around us, while art is a no-rules expression of creativity. By thinking of the two disciplines as distinctly different, there has not been much study of their similarities.

Dana Alliance member Eric R. Kandel, M.D., noticed the lack of interdisciplinary study of artistic and scientific methodologies and used it as the foundation for his new book, Reductionism in Art and Brain Science: Bridging the Two Cultures. The book examines modern neuroscience alongside modern art, focusing on how both disciplines use reductive techniques. In a recent interview with the Wall Street Journal about his book, Kandel said:

This is reductionism—to take a complex problem and select a central, but limited, component that you can study in depth. Rothko—only color. And yet the power it conveys is fantastic. Jackson Pollock got rid of all form.

[In neuroscience] you have to look at how behavior is changed by environmental experience…I began to realize we’ve got to find a very simple learning situation…I looked around for an animal that had the kind of [simple] nervous system I would like. Aplysia [has] the largest nerve cells in the animal kingdom.

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Live Chat Tomorrow: “Do the Arts Make Us Smarter?”

At 3pm EST, Thursday, March 14, Science magazine will be running a free live chat called Do the Arts Make Us Smarter?, exploring the effects of arts education on the brain. Moderated by Science staff writer Emily Underwood, guests will be Daniel Levitin, who runs the Lab for Music Perception, Cognition, and Expertise at McGill University, and Keith Oatley, a psychologist at the University of Toronto who studies the effect of fiction on our emotions.

What sorts of questions will they answer? How about: Does learning the violin actually increase IQ or translate to better grades? Can drawing help students learn geometry? What other benefits can the arts provide, both in and beyond the classroom?

For those of you can’t tune in live, it will be archived on that same web page.

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Can the Arts Contribute to Healthier Aging?

On September 14th, The National Academies of Sciences (NAS) hosted the workshop, “Research Gaps and Opportunities for Exploring the Relationship of the Arts to Health and Well-Being in Older Adults,” in collaboration with the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and three divisions of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The D.C. workshop featured experts from the health and arts fields, who discussed current arts and aging research, and the need for increased exploration.

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From the Archives: Why the Arts Matter

The Dana Foundation has long been interested in education and the arts. The advent of the field of neuroeducation, or mind, brain, and education science, led to several free Dana publications, which are still available online and in print.

One of these resources, Neuroeducation: Learning, Arts, and the Brain, published in 2009, reprinted a keynote address given by Dana Alliance Member Jerome Kagan, Ph.D., of Harvard University. Kagan spoke to the educators attending a summit co-sponsored by The Johns Hopkins University School of Education’s Neuro-Education Initiative on “Why the Arts Matter.”

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