Magazine article Science & Spirit

The Beat Goes On

Magazine article Science & Spirit

The Beat Goes On

Article excerpt

Gabe Turow is still amazed by what he saw. At first, it seemed normal: The woman he watched on videotape, a patient with Parkinson's disease, walked extremely slowly and, even then, only with the help of an aid. It took her several seconds to reach her right arm across her chest, to touch her left elbow. But then, when disco music began to play, she stood straight up, gained speed, swung her arms symmetrically, and walked to the beat. "We had an entire room of neuroscientists sit there and go, 'Whoa,'" said Turow, a visiting scholar at Stanford University's Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics.

The video, brought to Stanford by Concetta Tomaino, director of the Institute for Music and Neurologic Function and vice president for music therapy at Beth Abraham Family of Health Services in New York, is a stunning example of what all the scientists attending the first symposium on "brain wave entrainment" already knew: Rhythmic patterns can affect brain function in profound ways.

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The basic principle behind brain wave entrainment is that if a person listens attentively to a rhythmic stimulus, such as tribal drumming, repetitive prayer, or music with a beat, then the person's brain waves gradually will become "entrained"--they will modulate in frequency to match the tempo of the beat. This response, the theory goes, can cause changes in mood, arousal, and attention.

A few years ago, clinical psychologist Harold Russell ran an experiment with a group of elementary and middle school boys with ADD or ADHD. …

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