What Can Music Tell Us About Depression?

4 Jun

A recent publication in NeuroReport (2009) investigated whether degrees of depression corresponded to brain activity in the reward system when individuals passively listened to their favorite music.  Anhedonia, a by-product of depression, is a decrease in enjoyment with activities that were once pleasurable.  This symptom is often associated with dysfunctional or abnormal activity in the reward systems area of the brain, but previously had not been investigated with experimental procedures involving music.

In this study, researchers instructed participants to choose several favorite songs and several non-favorites or “neutral” songs.   The depressed patients and non-depressed patients listened to the first three minutes of each selected song while under the monitor of a brain scanner.  Using fmri procedures, the brain-imaging results for the non-depressed group displayed a greater activation  in areas that are thought to comprise the reward system when listening to their favorite songs.  In comparison, the depressed group showed little to no activation for these areas, suggesting that Anhedonia might be attributed to deficient activity in the reward system during engagement with previously pleasurable activities.   Furthermore, those with a lesser-degree of depression displayed greater activation in the reward system then participants with a higher degree of depression.

This study suggests that the severity of Anhedonia might be dependent on the functionality of the reward system.  Using music as the medium for investigation, the researchers provide insight on the biological underpinning to such a complex, abnormal disorder.  Though this study is an ideal example of how to incorporate music into research methodology, the subjectivity of “favorite songs” leaves me a bit wary (as there is no way to measure the degree of favoritism or whether or not it is indeed a participants favorite song!).  Further research will be needed to determine how efficiently music can be used in similar determinations, but this study is surely a step in the right direction.

Osuch, E.A., Bluhm, R.L., Williamson, P.C., Theberge, J., Densmore, M., & Neufeld, R.W.J. (2009). Brain activation to favorite music in healthy control and depressed patients. NeuroReport, 20, 1204-1208.

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One Response to “What Can Music Tell Us About Depression?”

  1. Kanesha Filippo July 9, 2010 at 4:08 am #

    Hi. You have a really excellent blog which I enjoyed reading. Thanks! Does anyone know whether exercise can help in the treatment of depression. Thanks.

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