Researchers at International Institute of Information and Technology, Hyderabad determine relation between music and mental health

Not only does music heal, listening to certain genres can actually determine the nature of certain mental health conditions,finds out team of researchers in IIIT-Hyderabad
Image for representational purposes( Express illustrations)
Image for representational purposes( Express illustrations)

Those recurring loops of ‘My favourite Things’, ‘Claire de Lune’ or not-so-fresh-yet-not-so-old ‘Aal izz well’ from Bollywood blockbuster Three Idiots definitely take you down memory lane so much so that you forget that migraine in the right side of your head or those attacks of anxiety somehow fade away.

No wonder then that a click on YouTube or that random surfing on Facebook leaves the footprints of your selection and ‘what-you-might-like-in-music’ appears in the sidebar. Adele and Cher appear alongside Bach, Tchaikovsky and perhaps some out-of-nowhere relaxing delta sleep music. ‘Music in itself is healing’ and the researchers prove it. At the same time, a pattern of like or dislike in music helps determine the mental health condition a person has. That’s what says a team of researchers at International Institute of Information and Technology, Hyderabad (IIIT-Hyderabad). 

But how exactly does determining mental health condition help when done through recognising patterns related to which kind of music one loves or abhors? Says prof Vinoo Alluri, who heads research on Music Cognition at the Cognitive Science Lab at IIIT-Hyderabad, “There is so much stigma still attached to mental health conditions and the treatment. Through this research we are trying to find indirect diagnosis of the mental health issues. The way a person uses music to relax, incite something new or to connect with painful memories tells a lot about the current mental state which if recorded on regular basis shows a pattern.” They started the research more than a year ago based on what their Finnish counterparts had already done. They collected data from different people in the age group of 24 years. They used Health Unhealthy Music Scale (HUMS) to measure that. The questionnaire includes queries like ‘It can be hard to stop listening to music that connects me to bad memories’ to ‘I hide in my music because nobody understands me’. 

Researchers say that when millions of the nerve cells in our system communicate with one another and send signals to the brain, such lightning-speed activity produces electricity thus producing electrical wave like activity in the brain. These are classified as beta, alpha, theta and delta waves. The first one is of alertness which is what we all experience almost everyday with our daily stress, logical decisions etc. When the mind experiences alpha waves, it begins to relax. And this is what music produces in our mind. No wonder one feels serene after listening to music – the kind which is calming. Runki 
Goswami, musician-singer who has been working on a music album consisting of ragas with healing properties shares, “Many songs are based on the healing ragas that’s why it heals automatically without us consciously realising it.” Many people come to her asking for a music prescription. “Many have felt better afterwards,” she says. 

At the same time if one kind of music can provide relaxation another can cause agitation. “It depends on how frequently we listen to a certain type of music,” adds Alluri. 
On the other hand Dr. Shantala of National Institute of mental health And Neuroscience (NIMHANS), Bangalore uses music for clinical treatments based on intervention methodology. It’s for cognitive deficiency in patients suffering from Schizophrenia, Parkinson’s. She says, “Do you know that our brain creates its own music? The soft notes activate multiple neural networks in brain awakening long-term memories without you even realising it. Human mind is uniquely endowed with neural-plasticity. It has the power to bring change for improved functions. And music definitely helps the brain do it better.”
— Saima Afreen
 saima@newindianexpress .com  @Sfreen

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