One Mozart song calms people with epilepsy, and we may know why
A Mozart sonata has been found to have a calming effect on the brains of those with epilepsy, with new research that may explain why.
Researchers played Mozart’s Sonata for Two Pianos in D Major K448 to 16 patients hospitalised with epilepsy who did not respond to medication, with hopes that music could become a new avenue of non-invasive treatment.
“Our ultimate dream is to define an ‘anti-epileptic’ music genre and use music to improve the lives of those with epilepsy,” said Robert Quon of Dartmouth College and a co-author on the new study.
In the study, the team monitored the brains of the patients using brain implant sensors to detect the occurrence of short but harmful brain events called IEDs, which epileptics suffer between seizures.
After 30 seconds of listening to K448, the scientists found that the rate of IEDs decreased, while significant effects were seen in parts of the brain associated with emotion.
But, it was when they compared the participants’ responses to the structure of the song that they saw a pattern.
The effects of the music seemed to increase during transitions between longer musical phrases, which Dr Quon says may create a sense of anticipation.
When the phrase is answered in an unexpected way by the next phrase, it creates “a positive emotional response”.
In contrast, patients showed no change in brain activity when listening to other stimuli or songs that weren’t K448, including a Wagner work characterised by changing harmonies but “no recognisable melody”.
This isn’t the first time K448 has been shown to have beneficial effects either.
In 1993, scientists claimed that people who listened to the song for 10 minutes or more showed improved spatial reasoning skills.
Since then, more research has tested its effects on various brain functions and disorders such as epilepsy.
The authors of the new study argue that this is the first time that observations have been connected to the song’s structure, which they described as being “organised by contrasting melodic themes, each with its own underlying harmony”.
The study, published in Scientific Reports, noted that additional testing comparing K448 to other pieces may further close in on the song’s therapeutic aspects.