One of the things that I love about psychology is the fact that, as far as sciences go, it is a relatively young one. This means that many of the biggest pioneers in the field are still alive, and new findings are continually being introduced. One such discovery, is the idea that our brains are truly relational entities. Largely through the work of Dan Siegel, M.D., we are becoming aware of the influence that relationships have on our brains, as well as, the fact that these organs have the capacity to develop new pathways throughout our entire life-span. This translates to the potential to learn more flexible and balanced ways to approach formerly stressful situations. In discussing the concept of “mirror neurons,” Dr. Siegel has enlightened us to the way in which close proximity to one another encourages parts of our brains to function with interpersonal synchronicity. This is very exciting news, on many levels, but particularly for those of us who are in the healing arts.
And, of course, this information made me wonder whether music, particularly Dave Matthews Band music, also has the ability to change our brains. It turns out that another physician, Dr. Oliver Sacks, has studied the effect that music has on the brain, and found many fascinating results. He believes that humans are pre-wired for this art, and that it is essential to our well-being. Dr. Sacks also points out that several areas of the brain become activated in response to music, and that one can even distinguish a musician from a non-musician by looking at brain imaging pictures of both groups while they are listening to songs. The musicians will have noticeably more activity in those areas of the brain that are involved in musical functioning, vs. the non-musicians, who will still be affected, but to a lesser extent. In addition, the practice of music has both immediate physiological effects, and long-term structural influence on these mighty organs.
So, putting together the works of these two distinguished researchers, one can only wonder how being a DMB fan is affecting our brains! On the one hand, we have hard evidence to suggest that our relationships with other fans contributes to the way in which we see the world. We also know that the musician’s brains are structurally and functionally enhanced every time that they play for us. And finally, we know that listening to music activates very important areas of the brain. But, is it possible that being a witness to, (either in person or remotely), these men can also alter our internal organs in the same way that being in a relationship can? Are our neurons mirroring those of our favorite performers, in a process similar to the one that occurs with our closest friends?
Unfortunately, we would need some very sophisticated research involving these extremely busy band members to answer these questions. Maybe that’s what they can do during their 2011 break! Probably not, but thoughts like these just might help us untangle the mystery surrounding, “what lies behind the worried eyes of one another.”
Hayley Bauman, Psy.D.
Author of Serendipity and the Search for True Self