Classical music aficionados have always found that listening to their favourite ragas cheers them up. We could soon know exactly what changes occur in the brain to trigger this effect.
Lilavati Hospital’s nuclear medicine department has undertaken a research project to assess the effect that Hindustani classical music has on the human brain. The year-long study, which is being done in collaboration with city-based vocalist Dr Rahul Joshi, started last October.
The research team headed by Padma Bhusan awardee, Dr R.D. Lele, will use the latest technology – the Single Photon Emission Computed Tomography (SPECT) scan – to see how blood flows through different parts of the brain before and after listening to classical music.
“We have taken the scans of six volunteers so far. We hope to have a sample of at least 30,” said researcher, Dr Karuna Luthra.
While the volunteers so far have been healthy individuals, the team plans to include people suffering from depression and chronic pain too.
For the study, a tiny amount of a harmless chemical is injected into the volunteer’s bloodstream, which travels up to the brain. A gamma camera is then moved around the head to capture multiple images of the brain. Another scan is done after the volunteer listens to Dr Joshi’s singing for approximately 20 minutes.
“The chemical is usually absorbed by the different parts of the brain in a peculiar pattern. The distribution of the chemical indirectly reflects the flow of blood and will tell us which areas of the brain are activated,” said Dr Luthra.
She added that they are using the SPECT scan as it can show the changes in the functioning of the brain, not just changes in structure that can be seen in a CT scan or MRI.
Five popular ragas – Yaman, Malkans, Bhairav, Bihag and Marwa – have been selected for the study. “Ragas are known to evoke different rasas or emotions. The study may also help give us an insight into why this happens,” said Dr Joshi.
The researchers also hope to explore the belief that music stimulates certain areas of the brain that are linked to intellectual performance. The hypothesis is that music can “hardwire” the brain, building links between the right and left hemispheres.