‘Groovy’ music can boost brain performance, study reveals

TSUKUBA, Japan — The right song can brighten even the darkest day for many music fans, but new research out of Japan reports “groovy” music can even enhance brain functioning! That’s right, dancing your Saturday nights away may just sharpen your thinking skills.

Scientists from the University of Tsukuba report that “music with a groove” can significantly increase measures of executive function and associated brain activity. There is a catch, though: You have to be familiar with the tune.

Study authors explain groovy music usually sparks feelings of pleasure while simultaneously increasing “behavioral arousal levels.” Previous studies have found that exercise can help sharpen cognition, and the research team hypothesized that dancing to groovy music may benefit the brain in a similar way.

However, no study had formally investigated the influence of groovy beats on brain functioning. So, researchers decided to do the work themselves. More specifically, they set out to examine the impact of dance music on brain activity in neural areas associated with executive function, such as the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (l-DLPFC).

“Groove rhythms elicit groove sensations and positive affective responses. However, whether they influence executive function is unknown,” says lead study author Professor Hideaki Soya in a university release. “Accordingly, in the present study, we conducted brain imaging to evaluate corresponding changes in executive function, and measured individual psychological responses to groove music.”

How do groovy tunes affect the brain?

To observe and assess executive brain functions before and after listening to music, the research team used a brain imaging technique called functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS), along with a color-word matching test. Participants also completed surveys examining their subjective experiences while listening to the groovy tunes.

“The results were surprising,” Prof. Soya reports. “We found that groove rhythm enhanced executive function and activity in the l-DLPFC only in participants who reported that the music elicited a strong groove sensation and the sensation of being clear-headed.”

These psychological responses to groove rhythms may even predict changes in executive function and l-DLPFC activity.

“Our findings indicate that individual differences in psychological responses to groove music modulate the corresponding effects on executive function. As such, the effects of groove rhythm on human cognitive performance may be influenced by familiarity or beat processing ability,” Prof. Soya concludes.

These findings, while largely preliminary, have the potential to benefit countless people. From the retiree looking to stay sharp mentally and stave off dementia, to workers and students alike hoping to improve their performances, throwing on a few catchy tunes may just be a difference maker.

Study authors add that when we dance to catchy music, it usually results in both a positive mood and rhythmic synchronization. Both of those factors may partially account for the observed cognitive boost among subjects.

The findings appear in Scientific Reports.

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