A Mozart sonata that can soothe epileptic brain activity can gain its therapeutic power thanks to melodies that create a sense of surprise, according to a study published Thursday.
The research on 16 patients admitted with epilepsy who did not respond to medication has reinforced the hope that music can be used for new non-invasive treatments.
“Our ultimate dream is to define an ‘anti-epileptic’ genre of music and use music to improve the lives of those with epilepsy,” said Robert Quon of Dartmouth College, co-author of the study, published in Scientific reports.
Mozart’s Sonata for Two Pianos in D major K448 is known for its effects on cognition and other brain activity, but researchers are still trying to understand why.
In this study, researchers played the piece for patients equipped with brain implant sensors to monitor the occurrence of IEDs – short but harmful brain events that suffer from epileptics between seizures.
They found IEDs decreased after 30 seconds of listening, with significant effects in parts of the brain associated with emotions.
When they compared the response to the structure of the work, they found the effects increased during transitions between longer musical sentences – those that lasted 10 seconds or more.
Quon says the results suggest that longer sentences can create a sense of anticipation – and then respond to it in an unexpected way “creating a positive emotional response”.
The so-called ‘Mozart effect’ has been the subject of research since researchers in 1993 claimed that people who had listened to K448 for 10 minutes showed improved spatial reasoning skills.
Subsequent research has tested the effects of K448 on various brain functions and disorders, including epilepsy.
But the authors said this is the first to break down observations based on the structure of the song, which they described as “organized by contrasting melodic themes, each with its own underlying harmony”.
As with previous studies, patients showed no change in brain activity when exposed to other auditory stimuli or pieces of music other than K448 – even those from their favorite musical genres.
The patients in this study listened to 90 seconds of a Wagner work characterized by changing harmonies, but “no recognizable melody”.
Listening to Wagner did not provide any calming effect, which led researchers to start with melody as important in K448.
The study notes that additional tests may use other carefully selected pieces of music for comparison to further locate the therapeutic components of the sonata.
© Agence France-Presse