A neat study that shows us, once again, that the brain remains plastic in adulthood:”Scientists at University College London have shown that working as a piano tuner may lead to changes in the structure of the memory and navigation areas of the brain. The study, published today in the Journal of Neuroscience, shows that these structural differences correlate with the number of years of experience a piano tuner has accumulated.
The researchers used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to examine how the brain structures of 19 professional piano tuners differed from those of 19 controls. The tuners, from across the UK, all tune pianos by ear, without the use of any electronic instruments.
Sundeep Teki from UCL, joint first author of the study, explains: ‘Piano tuning is a unique profession and this motivated us to investigate physical changes in the brain of tuners that may develop over several years of repeated acoustic practice. We already know that musical training can correlate with structural changes, but our group of professionals offered a rare opportunity to examine the ability of the brain to adapt over time to a very specialised form of listening.’
The researchers found highly specific changes in both the grey matter (the nerve cells where information processing takes place) and the white matter (the connections between cells) within a particular part of the brain: the hippocampus. These changes significantly correlated with the number of years that tuners have been performing the task.” Read more here.
I love the idea of the brain “adapt[ing] over time to a very specialised form of listening.” It makes me wonder about the changes that might be induced by other kinds of listening: Do the brains of experienced clinical psychologists show evidence of all the hours they spend listening for emotion in their patients’ voices? Do the brains of doctors reflect the years they have spent listening to heartbeats and to the sound of air in the lungs? Fanciful questions inspired by a serious insight: our brains are shaped by what we repeatedly do.
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