In partial fulfillment of my graduate thesis, this poster represents the findings of my study conducted at the University of California, San Diego. Presented July 5, 2016 at the 14th International Conference on Music Perception and Cognition in San Francisco.
Prior research associates listening to heavy music with reduced suicide risk, especially among teenage girls when utilized for vicarious release. Nevertheless, few studies consider the active use of heavy music in self-regulation for those who suffer from thoughts of self-harm and/or mental illness. In order to to better understand the mechanisms by which engaging with heavy and intense music may circumvent self-harming behavior, a pilot study is presented of 283 subjects. The majority of those surveyed report suffering from thoughts of self-harm or mental disorders. To examine the use of affect regulation via both generic (non-specified) and heavy, intense, and highly emotive music, we created the Music in Affect Regulation Questionnaire (MARQ), utilizing music in mood regulation (MMR) strategies from the work of Saarikallio. We identify heavy music by the presence of capacious, distorted riffs; loud, pervasive percussion; or an overall feeling of ‘raw power,’ emotion, and affective intensity stemming from the instrumental or vocal parts. Our findings collectively show that heavy music listeners (and those who have thoughts of self-harm, in particular) interact with definitively heavy, intense, or highly emotive music differently than with generic music, especially in the use of modulating negative mood. These findings seem less related to genre-specific categories than certain musical commonalities collectively understood as intensity, and provide significant evidence for heavy music’s ability to circumvent self-destructive impulses, especially when applied in tandem with specific listening strategies of affect-regulation. Additional evidence from prior case studies further suggests the value of deeper investigation of the conscientious use of heavy music as a potential intervention for those suffering from affect dysregulation and self-harm.
Musical Intensity in Affect Regulaton: Interventons in Self-Harming Behavior
Hello all! Sincerest apologies for the severe lack of content over the past year or so. I have been tucked away studying music and psychology at UCSD, and who knew: grad school can be time-consuming! Luckily, I’m unwaveringly passionate about what I have been privileged to research, and I’ve enjoyed…well, many moments 🙂
To come to the point, I’d like to ask a bit of support in order to finish my thesis. In 2011, I received generous support from you all to attend my first conference surrounding music and the brain. Five years later, I find myself again in need of assistance to conduct research in my field. This time, however, your help will fund the final steps for completion of my thesis: broadly approaching how music might be used to combat and intervene in young people who struggle with self-destructive behavior. I have an immense faith in music’s capacity to heal, transform, and even save lives.
Taking place in 3 weeks, I have been invited to participate and present my research in the UK in Epigenesis and Philosophy: A Workshop on the Work of Catherine Malabou. This event brings together scholars in both the humanities and natural sciences. We will engage in critical discussion regarding our work in tandem with the work of the aforementioned French philosopher widely known for her ideas which merge philosophy, neuroscience, and psychoanalysis. Some of you may recall my enthusiasm for her work on plasticity as the catalyst for my decision to pursue graduate studies in how music may be used as a healing tool. I have since been lucky enough to converse with Catherine on a number of occasions, and she remains a primary source of inspiration and critical analysis in the wake of her timely question “What Should We Do With Our Brain?”
As a graduate student, I have been obscenely blessed with a fellowship that allows me to study in a wonderful program. Last year, I was awarded graduate travel stipends that allowed me to present my work locally and abroad. Unfortunately, the financial situation in my department is quite different this year, and it seems what few resources were available have been exhausted. Participation in the upcoming workshop would be a tremendous aid in research for the thesis (which must be completed by May of this year for graduation in June). The budget including air travel, ground transportation, food and lodging comes to around $1,700.
Funding this vital research not only supports completion of my graduate thesis — it furthers investigation of the transformative healing, powers I believe music can have on the mind. Please consider joining others who have donated here and help us make the largest impact possible.
I have a dear friend (we’ll call him Nathan). Though I haven’t seen him in years, we keep in touch as much as life’s seeming entropy permits. I met Nathan in college when I began voice lessons and needed an accompanist. As proved typical for me, I simply looked for the most dashing, accomplished pianist available to join me in practicing my Italian arias and favorites from Phantom. Though young, Nathan was a great musician, and though our personalities couldn’t be more opposite, I held a great amount of respect for him.
One day, a curious thing happened. I was driving on my way to school after grabbing coffee when I saw Nathan walking down the road about a mile out. I was already nearly late to class, so I rolled down my window and offered him a ride. When I became close enough to see his face, I understood immediately that Nathan would not be joining us in World History that day. We awkwardly mumbled something to each other, he declined the ride, and I reluctantly kept going. When I arrived in class, I discreetly explained to the professor that though I was unsure of the cause, something was very wrong with Nathan, and he would be absent for the day.
As time passed, Nathan and I became inseparable. As I was a couple years his senior and lived off campus, it became the unsaid ritual that after choir, we’d grab food. After ensemble, I’d kidnap him to Starbucks so he could tease me as I refused to budge until I had studied for my philosophy class for no less than 4-6 hours at a time. He tried to help me in music theory, and I tried to help him gain confidence in singing. Although like many pianists, he had a lovely but timid singing voice, I really never heard it until recently – some five years after meeting him.
A year or so into our friendship, Nathan transferred to a college back home. I was devastated, as I had lost my best pal. Who was I going to call for a long drive to do nothing but sit in silence and listen to Radiohead’s Videotape over and over when it felt like my existential world of faith was caving in? Who was going to teach me the rest of the Mendelssohn piece (by ear, mind you, as I refused to read the sheet music at the time)? Who was going to roll his eyes at me when I showed off in the ear training portion of collegiate, or play Chopin’s Fantasie Impromptu for me as only he could? I didn’t know. I eventually made new friends, but the uniting factor that brought us together was a bond so strong it was never replaced, and has never faded. The type of bond that although we haven’t seen each other in four years, he remains available for my call anytime, day or night, and I for his. That bond is the blinding desolation of loss, and the dogged, unyielding courage of resilience.
When Nathan tragically lost one of his best friends the day I found him slowly trodding down the side of the road, I somehow knew. Though up to that point, I’d only lost a few people in my life, I was no stranger to loss of the purest kind. As Nathan and I grew closer, we grew to develop a stronger empathy for one another – many demons that plagued him also plagued me, and sadly, the young friend Nathan lost that day was not the first, and would not be the last. Although the friend I lost to cancer at age 18 was nothing short of heartbreaking, it could not prepare me for the following loss of my gran, my father, and a dear friend taken far too young just last summer.
I have never written about that friend publicly, but as he was loved by so many, it was a terrible loss. I had shared many a silly, procrastinating evening listening intently to his outlandish stories in college, and have been affected in so many positive ways by his compassionate charisma. When I got the news, I knew outside of his family and immediately local friends, telling Nathan would prove the toughest, as it seems he is cruelly losing a loved one every time I turn around. I believe it is because of this, however, that we have remained the strongest of allies. There is no more universal plight than death, and a multitude of historical events simply show that trial, grief and hopeful resilience simply bring people together.
A couple of weeks ago, Nathan sent me his cover of a Say Something (A Great Big World feat. Christina Aguilera) with little explanation other than “Listen to this if you will – you can’t imagine the day I’ve had, and I’m sorry my voice is frail but this holds a lot of personal significance to me.” I received the email mid-lessons, and only remembered to put it on right before pulling into my apartment for the night. I figured I would hear a few moments, and then replay it later on when settled. However, for whatever reason, from the split second I heard the first four solo notes in complete isolation, I knew this was going to be a tough listen. As the song opened and the words “Say something, I’m giving up on you” fell from his mouth, my heart jumped to my throat. Nathan was currently going through a loss of the worst kind, and I knew immediately the type of “day” he had been referring to.
As the song played on, it fastly became one of those pieces you never forget the first time hearing. It was also the first time I’d truly heard Nathan sing, and it was beautiful, captivating, and utterly devastating. Surrounded by the common and simple vi IV I V progression, his voice radiated of pain and brokenness, but also of survival – he had recorded it, after all. After sitting stunned for what felt like ages, I went inside, dropped my books on the floor, immediately pulled up the lyrics for the song, played, recorded and sent the first portion of the song back to him.
Though the song was poignant and evocative then, it passed into vague memory until quite recently. I lost something myself, this time, that left me feeling like nothing more than a bewildered little girl hiding under the bed. As I wandered aimlessly around my apartment that evening, I remember the song Nathan had sent me, and the words came rushing back in my head like a merciless yet somehow relieving migraine. I made myself a cup of coffee to brave the chill of three in the morning out on my balcony, put my headphones on, and watched the video to Say Something for the first time. Maybe the most surprising thing was not even the almost at once literal depiction of the little girl hiding under the bed (a harsh but tender parallel indeed) but that the song depicted more than one type of loss. The two lovers, the scared, sad child, and the elderly man mourning his fading wife on her deathbed. I do not know what it is about such a simple song – maybe the slight, fleetingly frozen dissonance in the V chord, or maybe the emotion with which it is performed, but that song somehow brought to life everything that I could not.
I’ve since spoken to various people about the song’s effect, and have heard only the most positive things. “My boyfriend and I split this morning, and this song just helps me feel.” “I’m moving to a new city by myself, leaving all my friends behind, and I can’t stop listening to it.” “My dog died recently, and I know it’s silly, but it’s so pretty that it soothes me.” I also caught the video that recently went viral of the young boy moved to tears by the pop ballad. Though the dad was wise enough to request the ‘thumbs up’ to confirm the little guy was okay, 4-year-old Jackson was clearly and utterly moved by the music, as assuredly so many others around the globe have been. Does the young child have the capacity to intuitively understand what’s going on in the song or in his brain to evoke such elicit feelings of sadness? I don’t know. What I do know, is when the father provided the option to change the song, Jackson objected – he wanted to hear it.
Why is it that circumstances of loss and turmoil unite us so? Why is Banksy’s girl with the red balloon (always just out of reach) a personal favorite of thousands? Why was Adele’s Someone Like You a global affective phenomenon? Why was I glued to my phone and laptop nearly every moment of the Egyptian revolution a couple years ago? Why it is that Nathan and I always know exactly what to say to each other (which is often little more than solidarity’s knowing silence) when something dreadful happens? And above all, why does it so frequently involve or resort to music? Can music truly heal? I know it can, because I am a living attestation.
To speak plainly, sometimes the events of our lives can leave us feeling shattered in tiny pieces, strewn so haphazardly across the floor that Heaven only knows how or when we’ll find the strength to put them back together. Unfortunately, all the psychiatric drugs, diversions of the city, yoga classes and mindfulness apps in the world remain unable to glue us back together all at once. No, the process of feeling whole again can sometimes seem long, arduous and even hopeless. But if we make a little progress as often as we are able, slowly those little shards of who we are will begin to soften back into place, and the stiff and aching joints of defeat will begin to piece back together in a strengthened empathy and love. I am convinced now more than ever that music can be one of the most compassionate and brutal yet tender healers. I am overwhelmed with learning more of how this may be possible, and I intend to continue reporting my findings along the way.
Though we may always be able to see those little lines of glue reminding us of the time we nearly fell apart, healing is possible, and there is hope to be found.
Friday commenced with the morning keynote delivered by Dr. Ani Patel, entitled Does instrumental musical training enhance the brain’s processing of speech? In Patel’s articulate and informative lecture, he began by drawing our attention to the following: “Music and language have important connections as cognitive and neural systems, and that has implications for theoretical debates about how the mind is organized – for evolutionary studies on the origins of these abilities, and practical issues about remediation of language disorders” (Patel, 2014). Though the parallels in music and language are less novel on account of the publication of his 2008 book Music, Language and the Brain, the implications of instrumental training lending to developments in language and speech are very much so. In conclusion, operating with his extended OPERA hypothesis, Patel emphasizes that regardless of the varying direction and debates these studies may undergo, “Comparative music and language research really does deepen our understanding of human communication.” (Patel, 2014).
Dr. Elizabeth Tolbert spoke next, providing an evolutionary perspective in Music, Meaning and Becoming Human. Approaching the co-evolution of music, meaning and social intelligence, Tolbert addressed music as a behavior, not object; of possessing a social ontology, and its implicational model as derived from social interaction, shared intentionality and social intelligence. Her overarching thesis states “the story of becoming human is the story of the development of a specifically human type of meaning rooted in social intelligence, and one that likely has its origins in proto-musical behavior.” (Tolbert, 2014).
Dr. Ian Cross’s lecture entitled Music, Participation and Interaction further expanded on the day’s existing idea of music not only as a “practice composed by the few and consumed by many,” but as the encompassment of interactive processes far beyond a role of abstract structures, symbolic realms or lofty themes. As uniquely flexible and socially cooperative creatures, humans are capable of utilizing music as not only a mode of communicating information and ideals, but at times as phatic organisms. Cross went on to explain with conviction that if this theory were more widely considered, the insinuation might result in music being given the proper chance to utilize it’s more pragmatic magic in resolving social uncertainties (and thus social anxiety), provide powerful effects on memory and social attitude, and “provide us with new perspectives on the investigation of music beyond the bounds of Western culture” (Cross, 2014).
The second keynote, Losing the Beat: A New Window on Human Rhythm was given Dr. Isabelle Peretz (University of Montreal). Peretz has published over two hundred and fifty five scientific papers regarding everything from perception, emotion and memory to singing and dancing. In Losing the Beat, Peretz explained that a defining characteristic of human interaction with music is “the identity and ability to move to the beat.” Although this universal faculty is typically formed early in life, her recent research shows that some individuals suffer from the inability to synchronize with beats in music. This disorder is referred to as beat deafness, a new form of congenital amusia. In her presentation, Peretz conveyed a strong sensibility for the cause of studying musical disorders in regard to “reverse-engineering of the musical brain” (Peretz, 2014).
Later in the afternoon, Andrea Halpern took the floor to share her work on auditory imagery, and to describe her study examining the neural loci of imagined music. Halpern is a pioneer in her long-standing devotion to the field from early in its development. She has contributed fundamental work on memory and perception of musical structure, including studies on earworms and the persistence of musical memories), effects of timbre and tempo change, and perception of emotion in sounded and imagined music. In her presentation Auditory Imagery: Linking Internal and External Music, Halpern presented the argument that although internal and external music experiences are distinctive encounters, they share a number of important similarities, which both musicians and nonmusicians can exploit to enhance the musical experience.
Photo 1 – Diana Hereld
Photos 2, 3 – Scott Metcalfe
Note: I must include an apology for the delay in reporting on the conference this weekend. I simply found myself so wonderfully overwhelmed with information (but overwhelmed regardless) that I was unsure how to encapsulate the day’s culmination of so many brilliant minds in presentation of their most recent work. As a result, I’ve decided to report individually on each of them in the near future. A few other outlets have picked up specific coverage, and I will advise as those are released. I will also be sharing a summation of the conference’s concluding rountable featuring the speakers and performers, which was truly a thing to behold.
Music has long been shown to aid in the recollection of autobiographical memories in the general population. In recent years, it’s also been proven beneficial to those with Alzheimer’s, or those who have suffered a stroke. However, a recent study proves this process valuable for patients with acquired brain injuries (ABIs). This study is the very first of its kind to examine the possibility of triggering music-evoked autobiographical memories (MEAMs) in patients of this nature.
In the recent issue of Neuropsychological Rehabilitation, Amee Baird and Séverine Samson explain how they have used popular music to help patients with severe brain injuries recall personal memories. The study began with playing extracts from “Billboard Hot 100” number-one songs in random order to five patients taken from the entirety of the patient’s lifespan (commencing age five). These songs were also played to five control participants with no brain injuries. Following the procedure, all subjects were ask to record their familiarity with the given songs, whether or not they was pleasing to hear, and what memories they evoked. The following findings were provided by the Taylor & Francis group:
Doctors Baird and Samson found that the frequency of recorded MEAMs was similar for patients (38%–71%) and controls (48%–71%). Only one of the four ABI patients recorded no MEAMs. In fact, the highest number of MEAMs in the whole group was recorded by one of the ABI patients. In all those studied, the majority of MEAMs were of a person, people or a life period and were typically positive. Songs that evoked a memory were noted as more familiar and more liked than those that did not.
As a potential tool for helping patients regain their memories, Baird and Samson conclude that: “Music was more efficient at evoking autobiographical memories than verbal prompts of the Autobiographical Memory Interview (AMI) across each life period, with a higher percentage of MEAMs for each life period compared with AMI scores.”
The implications of these findings, in terms of neurological rehabilitation through music, memory, and emotion, are simply enormous. I look very forward to learning more of what the inimitable effects of music may have for those whose hope relies in neurological and psychological resilience.
To be, or not to be, that is the question:
Whether ’tis Nobler in the mind to suffer
The Slings and Arrows of outrageous Fortune, Or to take Arms against a Sea of troubles,
On December 5, 2013, Neuron published case study “The Will to Persevere Induced by Electrical Stimulation of the Human Cingulate Gyrus.” Although researchers at Stanford University came across these intriguing results by accident, the implications may prove in the future to be of some consequence. In order to gain knowledge in the neurological source of seizures, study co-author Vinitha Rangarajan explains they were in the process of delivering an electrical charge to the anterior midcingulate cortex region (involved in emotion, pain and cognitive processing) of two persons with epilepsy when the finding occurred. When the charge was delivered, both individuals experienced increase in heart rate, and various sensations in their chest and neck. These physiological sensations were accompanied by a psychological expectation of challenge, and the desire to surmount it.
When, in following, the patients only thought their brains were being stimulated (but were not), they did not experience any of the prior symptoms. This process of assumed stimulation was repeated 5mm away, with the same result – an absence of any or the previous physical or psychological effects. In a press release, lead author Dr. Parvizi explains “Our study pinpoints the precise anatomical coordinates of neuronal populations, and their associated network, that support complex psychological and behavioral states associated with perseverance.” Dissimilarities in this neuronal structure may be tied to innate differences in our capacity to cope and endure amid trying circumstances.
Electrical stimulation of the anterior cingulate region performed in two subjects
A stereotyped set of cognitive and autonomic changes was elicited in both subjects
This included feeling of anticipated challenge and strong motivation to overcome it
Site of stimulation in both subjects was a core node of the brain’s salience network
Anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) is known to be involved in functions such as emotion, pain, and cognitive control. While studies in humans and nonhuman mammals have advanced our understanding of ACC function, the subjective correlates of ACC activity have remained largely unexplored. In the current study, we show that electrical charge delivery in the anterior midcingulate cortex (aMCC) elicits autonomic changes and the expectation of an imminent challenge coupled with a determined attitude to overcome it. Seed-based, resting-state connectivity analysis revealed that the site of stimulation in both patients was at the core of a large-scale distributed network linking aMCC to the frontoinsular and frontopolar as well as some subcortical regions. This report provides compelling, first-person accounts of electrical stimulation of this brain network and suggests its possible involvement in psychopathological conditions that are characterized by a reduced capacity to endure psychological or physical distress.
In brief departure, I am reminded of William James’ thoughts on the notion of the “threshhold.”
Recent psychology has found great use for the word ‘threshold’ as a symbolic designation for the point at which one state of mind passes into another. Thus we speak of the threshold of a man’s consciousness in general, to indicate the amount of noise, pressure, or other outer stimulus which it takes to arouse his attention at all. One with a high threshold will doze through an amount of racket by which one with a low threshold would be immediately waked. Similarly, when one is sensitive to small differences in any order of sensation we say he has a low ‘difference-threshold’- his mind easily steps over it into the consciousness of the differences in question. And just so we might speak of a ‘pain-threshold,’ a ‘fear-threshold,’ a ‘misery-threshold,’ and find it quickly overpassed by the consciousness of some individuals, but lying too high in others to be often reached by their consciousness.[ii]
What is it that allows some individuals to fall off the horse fifty times, only to get back up fifty one? To attend one hundred grueling auditions whilst retaining the hope and inertia to continue showing up? To find love and then betrayal, and yet continue to open one’s heart to the vulnerabilities of emotion? Findings such as these in neuroscience are critical to the understanding of pain, fear, and crisis thresholds, and leave many open pathways for discovery in the realm of physical and psychological resilience.
To be, or not to be, that is the question:
Whether ’tis Nobler in the mind to suffer
The Slings and Arrows of outrageous Fortune, Or to take Arms against a Sea of troubles, And by opposing end them: to die, to sleep
No more; and by a sleep, to say we end
The Heart-ache, and the thousand Natural shocks
That Flesh is heir to? ‘Tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished. To die, to sleep,
To sleep, perchance to Dream; Aye, there’s the rub, For in that sleep of death, what dreams may come,
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause.
[i] Parvizi J, Rangarajan V, Shirer W, et al. The Will to Persevere Induced by Electrical Stimulation of the Human Anterior Cingulate Cortex. Neuron. 2013.
[ii]The Varieties of Religious Experience, New York: Longmans, Green, 1916. Originally published in 1902.
On Saturday, the Society for Neuroscience presented the Fred Kavli Public Symposium on Creativity. Chaired by Antonio Damasio, presenters included composer Bruce Adolphe, clinical psychologist Kay Redfield Jamison (An Unquiet Mind) and Damasio himself. Each speaker depicted a unique portrait in examples of creations, collaborations and the psyche behind it – Jamison through beautiful insight into the correlation of madness to creativity; Adolphe via imagination in his portrayal of a musical composition in alliance to mental illness.
It was Damasio, however, that really caught my attention in the vein he chose to depict what it is to create. He began, “Creativity is largely human – it is entirely a product of the mind, a product of mind-making brains. It assists life regulation (homeostasis).”[i] Long before there was even the option of achieving a balance of survival, there were simply eukaryotic cells, operating unconsciously. From there came the brain, then the mind, and from there, the self. For Damasio, to construct consciousness, the brain uses the mind (the basic component) and the self (where consciousness comes to light). “Creations are original products of the mind. Creativity is the engendering of such projects – ideas, objects, activities, etc. The self engenders a concern for the life proceedings, and it allows individuals to seek well-being, a state far more complex and difficult to obtain than mere survival. It is only then that the game of life changes radically, and we move from blind biology to the rebellious determination that brings on complex social behavior and eventually culture and civilizations…Art can only emerge then, and it becomes a critical component of that cultural evolution.”[ii]
Before creating a discourse in cultural necessity, let us briefly consider the biological. The cognitive and neural substrates shown between the processes of existing on the creating end, and those on the end of perceiving the created, reveal undeniable similarities. Although the means and neural activations certainly reveal a contrast (for example, portrait painting might activate the fusiform gyrus behind facial recognition, while recognizing expression in the portrait may illuminate the occipital lobe or the amygdala). Much of their motive and affect illustrate many parallels. In creating art, one basic but essential component is being able to utilize skills drawn from learning and memory recall. The creator need use their procedural memory, such as memories storing unconscious learnt skills (such as riding a bike or laying one’s fingers to the piano keys), and declarative memory, in the means of episodic memories (evoked from personal experiences) or semantic (the recall of facts, such as adhering to the accidentals of F minor).
In addition to memories summoned on behalf of the creator, Damasio further explains many of the same tools used in processing and affect are utilized on the opposing end. For the observer, the fluid interplay of remembrance, recalled emotions and feelings oft lead to analysis and reflection (be it superficial or profound). Prior experience with the particular art form (connoisseurship) shapes the observer’s ability to evaluate and enjoy what they have either sought or been presented. Individual preference determines distinctions in imagination and the breakdown/composition of elements in much the same way the creator embarks in posing the question “How novel is it, and how much does it fit the original goal defined?” As Damasio states, “On the mind-brain side of it, you have the importance for imagination, and of memory recall (the ability to display working memory’s faces and realize what it imagined). All of this needs to be modulated by affective experience. The moment you think about this in pure, non-affective cognitive terms, you very simply throw away the baby with the bathwater. It is the guidance that comes from the affective process from the emotional drive and the feeling that is going to make it work, or not.”[iii]
In circling back to the evolutionary underpinnings and origins of art in the physical, musical or visual realms, we retain that both the creator and receiver’s pursuit of art responding to their conscious (or unconscious) recognition of problems and needs. Humanity requires a method of processing, reasoning and making decisions, which the object theoretically should fulfill in its obligation of response. One could easily draw the conclusion that there existed a need (and therefore objective) to communicate with others. Damasio describes threats and opportunities, varying social behaviors, or conveying one’s own sorrow or joy as the probable key intents of communiqué. When these conversations were successful, and were found to be of positive effect, there came to being a compensatory balance. He arrives at a notable point in the seemingly obvious: How would the arts have prevailed otherwise?
Art responds to a need. Art fulfills the wont for intellectual enrichment, satisfies an otherwise empty void for many social contexts and institutions, lends much to the progress of science and technology, and realizes the desire for a more purposeful life existentially. The epic poems of Homer or Ovid are a significant example of a transaction for interaction of information. Prior to the enormous maturity and proliferation of science, literature was a vital method of imparting knowledge and fundamental means of exploration. We observed this heavily is the rise of psychoanalysis at the turn of the century, later by film, and now by neuroscience.
In addition to the evolutionary value of being able to communicate general information, Damasio posits the second largest catalyst for creativity was not only a mechanism of bonding and attachment (i.e. parent to offspring or in reproduction, male to female) but a means to induce nourishing emotions and feelings of varied kinds and importance, such as fear, anger, joy, sadness, indignation, revenge, pride, contempt, shame, loyalty and love. Damasio submits that music does this most of all-most importantly and most universally. The discovery of pleasure in reaction to varying timbres, pitches, rhythms and their relationship to each other surely contributed to the indispensable invention and persistence of this art form – relationships which were discovered in a setting of play, and of repetition.
The foundations of creativity and constructions of art were crucial to the formation of society and to the evolution of humanity in not only the aesthetic sense, but also one of ethics. They promoted a sense of communal organization, and directly provided a mode of exercising moral judgment and moral action. The arts had a candid survival value in forming communication for calls of alarm or opportunity, and they contributed to the notion of well-being. The arts fortified social groups, and social groups in turn fortified creativity. The impulse to create and as a result embrace new and adaptive behaviors possibly even helped humans transcend the Paleolithic era.[iv] They contributed to an exchange of ideas and compensated for emotional imbalances caused by fear, anger, desire, sadness and loss, and catalyzed the sustained process of establishing social and cultural institutions. Because art is so heavily founded in biology, thus homeostasis, and can take us to the highest realms of thought and of feeling, art is an authentic means into the refinement humanity most desires.
Three years later, much has changed in my life. Three years ago, my father, a singer and profound example of an artist’s command of control and heavenly motive, was still alive. So was a dear friend, who gave me my first book on Jackson Pollock to “stretch my artistic enjoyment.” Much has changed. Much has been found, and lost. Through all the things I have learned and gained, what propels me the most in intellectual, academic and moral pursuits remain: the search for beauty, knowledge, hope, and resilience. I have more than one jealous muse – neuroscience, poetry, dance, psychology, affection, seeking the coveted childlike wonder of the sky’s blanket before dawn – and music most of all. These things are all meaningless, all futile, however, devoid of passion for the refinement and rediscovery of buoyancy, integrity, compassion and love. There are a great many things in art and life that I do not understand, and will never understand. It is the greatest comedy, the most schizophrenic irony of all to be human, in a constant pursuit of perfection that will never be obtained. The alternative is contentment, dormant satisfaction, apathy. This, I reject. If time will not pause while I find my way, it stands to reason that by inertia I will keep going, keep attempting, regardless. If I am to undergo this fallen, fleeting existence of tragic loss and immeasurable joy in the means most true to my human nature, I will do so with art.
After all, in the words of Damasio, when we undergo art,we change for the better.
[i] Damasio, Antonio. (November 9, 2013). Fred Kavli Public Symposium on Creativity. Neuroscience 2013. Society for Neuroscience, San Diego.
[ii] Damasio, Antonio. (June 11, 2009).Evolutionary Origins of Art and Aesthetics: Art and Emotions. CARTA (Center for Academic Research and Training in Anthropogeny). Salk Institute, La Jolla.
[iii] Damasio, Antonio. (November 9, 2013). Fred Kavli Public Symposium on Creativity. Neuroscience 2013. Society for Neuroscience, San Diego.
WHAT YOU CAN DO TO SUPPORT WORLD SUICIDE PREVENTION DAY
WORLD SUICIDE PREVENTION DAY, September 10th, is an opportunity for all sectors of the community – the public, charitable organizations, communities, researchers, clinicians, practitioners, politicians and policy makers, volunteers, those bereaved by suicide, other interested groups and individuals – to join with the International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP) and the World Health Organization (WHO) to focus public attention on the unacceptable burden and costs of suicidal behaviours with diverse activities to promote understanding about suicide and highlight effective prevention activities.
Those activities may call attention to the global burden of suicidal behaviour, and discuss local, regional and national strategies for suicide prevention, highlighting cultural initiatives and emphasising how specific prevention initiatives are shaped to address local cultural conditions.
Initiatives which actively educate and involve people are likely to be most effective in helping people learn new information about suicide and suicide prevention. Examples of activities which can support World Suicide Prevention Day include:
• Launching new initiatives, policies and strategies on World Suicide Prevention Day
• Learning about stigma, mental health and suicide prevention (http://goo.gl/rKr8G)
• Holding conferences, open days, educational seminars or public lectures and panels
• Using the WSPD Press Preparation Package that offers media guides (http://goo.gl/zLA3Sm)
• Writing articles for national, regional and community newspapers and magazines
• Holding press conferences
• Placing information on your website and using the IASP World Suicide Prevention Day banner, promoting suicide prevention
in one’s native tongue (www.iasp.info/wspd/2013_wspd_banner.php)
• Securing interviews and speaking spots on radio and television
• Organizing memorial services, events, candlelight ceremonies or walks to remember those who have died by suicide
• Asking national politicians with responsibility for health, public health, mental health or suicide prevention to make relevant
announcements, release policies or make supportive statements or press releases on WSPD
• Holding depression awareness events in public places and offering screening for depression
• Organizing cultural or spiritual events, fairs or exhibitions
• Organizing walks to political or public places to highlight suicide prevention
• Holding book launches, or launches for new booklets, guides or pamphlets
• Distributing leaflets, posters and other written information
• Organizing concerts, BBQs, breakfasts, luncheons, contests, fairs in public places
• Writing editorials for scientific, medical, education, nursing, law and other relevant journals
• Disseminating research findings
• Producing press releases for new research papers
• Holding training courses in suicide and depression awareness
• Using and sharing the Toolkit that contains WSPD resources and links to related Web sites (http://goo.gl/pWWo1r)
• Becoming a Facebook Fan of the IASP (www.facebook.com/IASPinfo)
• Showing your support for the Day on the Official World Suicide Prevention Day Event page on Facebook (www.facebook.
com/events/415169808532653/ by clicking “Attending”
• Following the IASP on Twitter (www.twitter.com/IASPinfo), tweeting #WSPD or #suicide or #suicideprevention
• Creating a video about suicide prevention (www.youtube.com/IASPinfo)
• Lighting a candle, near a window, at 8 PM in support of: World Suicide Prevention Day, suicide prevention awareness,
survivors of suicide and for the memory of loved lost ones. Find “Light a Candle Near a Window at 8 PM” postcards in over
40 languages at: http://www.iasp.info/wspd/light_a_candle_on_wspd_at_8PM.php
• Participating in the first World Suicide Prevention Day – Cycle Around the Globe (http://www.iasp.info/wspd/cycle_around_
If anyone in the greater Los Angeles area is interesting in organizing or attending an event or vigil, please do not hesitate to get in touch.
Ever since the great tearjerker of ’11, the media has seemingly at last seen fit to begin a shift in focus toward a more somber melody. With a growing spotlight on artists such as Adele, Muse and Interpol to Chelsea Wolfe and Zola Jesus, songwriters would seem, in some cases, to be enjoying a more visible success specifically due to the inclusion of the melancholy than in recent years. For some, largely gone are the days of the I, IV, V and in are the repeated inclusion of the appoggiaturas and resolving minors.
John Sloboda, a professor of music psychology from my alma mater (Guildhall School of Music and Drama, London) states it like this: “Your hair’s standing up on end, shivers going down your spine, a lump coming into your throat, even tears running down your eyes.” And how is this? These effects are not solely felt, they are physiological responses to a specific perception-but do we even know what we’re perceiving? Just yesterday, Research Digest brought attention to a bit of qualitative research being done by Annemieke Van den Tol and Jane Edwards (University of Limerick) regarding the negative experiences of 65 individuals, and the music they chose to listen to. The research then would obviously fall into two separate themes or categories-the strategy adopted in music selection, and the function the music serves.
Without regurgitating the large amount of insight that many other researchers have almost simultaneously come across, there are definitely a few reoccurring themes in explanation of why people gravitate toward sad music:
Distancing (the act of distancing oneself from a sad experience via listening to sad music)
Desire for connection (in order to connect life events and current mood with a choice in music)
Trigger (in order to connect with an experience or person lost via nostalgia and emotive progressions)
“As The Spirit Wanes The Form Appears” (my personal favorite, exhibiting belief that when the spirit is most tried and tested, one is able to more fully come to grips with the state of things around and within them, and reach out for either a perceived or real hope)
Common humanity (in order to feel part of a greater puzzle-instead of feeling isolated and alone, one may feel they are being reached out to via the lyricism or voice of the music and are thus part of a “larger human experience”)
Control (although sad music obviously often evokes melancholy emotions, they would seem to be separate from reality. These sad events are not actually happening in real-time, not unlike when we read sad fiction. We are able to experience sadness without any real threat to our safety, mental state or well being. Richard Kunert has written a great post on precisely this over at Brain’s Idea which walks through this a bit more in depth. Richard states:
Prolactin is a hormone associated with feelings of tranquillity, calmness, well-being, or consolation. Huron (2011) suggests that the body uses it to counteract grief and thus avoid descending into an uncontrollably depressive episode. Such hormonal counter-measures to negative environmental inputs are also found for physical pain. Physical pain is reduced by endorphins. Such a bodily mechanism can be exploited – as when heroin addicts fool the brain’s response to pain. Huron (2011) proposes that sad music can activate the counter-measures to actual sadness – i.e. prolactin production – without any real sadness being present. One gets the hormone’s consoling effect without the sadness and might thus actually enjoy it. (Kunert, 2012).
I’d like to briefly focus on the last theme of control: what does this say for people who suffer from mental illness, post traumatic stress or major trauma? These circumstances largely represent a loss of control for the subject. This loss of control is often to blame for irrational and impulsive behaviors. Suicide, acts of self-inflicted harm and many crimes of passion are the ultimate act and statement of control-which is the very override we’re trying to buy time against in the amygdala when thinking in terms of behavioral manipulation.
My friend and fellow music psychology comrade Kelty Walker put it this way: “Same goes for any emotion, song, genre, movie, book, person, car, job, and yes, belief system. Anything that elicits a response in the amygdala can be used to condition ourselves into our desired state. Now, if only we were more widely aware of it…”
In the spirit of “sad” music and emotional/physiological response, I’m enclosing one of the most powerful songs (and experiences) of my life. There are few songs which elicit the type of response this work is capable of in me-in any situation, mindset or setting. Come 3:15, the response is quite Pavlovian.
Thus far, my research interests have lain in the children I’ve tested and taught in person, and I have had little use for gathering data from anyone over the age of 18. As I craft together my first pitch, however, I’d like to ask for some feedback. I’ve been given the opportunity to write about two subjects I find very fascinating. In fact, I believe anyone else has yet to combine them in quite this way. I’m attempting to piece together the music industry and psychological resilience. In the end, it all boils down to music behavior analysis. In this vein, I find myself happily at home. When venturing toward the music industry and modern practice, however, I’m treading on new ground.
So I ask you, dear reader, if you have ever gone through a period of immense stress (i.e. one’s senior year of college or an audit at work), lost a loved one due to natural or unnatural causes, or experienced a major trial of any kind, to lend me your feedback. If you have ever streamed music using Spotify, Grooveshark, Songza, 8track, LastFM (etc.), or elected not to, I ask for your feedback.
It’s been a few weeks since I really sat down on meditated on these concepts. This weekend, however, tragedy struck. A friend of mine lost his father, and I lost someone very dear to me. I suppose now is as good a time as ever, then, to write about loss, and how we respond to it.
I am interested in the way we respond to trauma/loss through the psychological lenses of music behavior with a special emphasis on playback. Because the debate of ownership vs. streaming is relatively new, there is precious little data available in the area I’m seeking. In terms of loss, this natural phenomenon has always existed. As for the modes and vices with which we counter this loss, our outlets would seem to expand on a daily basis. We grow at the speed of modern technology.
How has the ability to stream music affected stress/pain culture in the industry? Has it been altered in the least in terms of our music listening habits (ownership vs. access)? Is streaming saved for the young in age and young at heart, those without the worries of time and weather? In occasions of strife, do we turn to a new and fresh outlet which resigns our need and right of control? Or in a subconscious search for the regulation of external chaos do we flee from such an idea, clinging heavily to those old safe tunes proven time and time again to get us through?
I would appreciate any and all feedback in the aid of my essay. You may leave a comment, or if you wish to reach me privately, you may contact me on Facebook.
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