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This is your brain on guitar

March 16, 2009 |  5:00 pm

GuitarsMusicians who play in sync also have brains that fall into alignment, according to a study published today. The study showed that the brain waves of guitarists playing a jazz tune together became synchronized as they performed.

Researchers from the Max Planck Institute in Germany and the University of Salzburg examined eight pairs of guitarists while they were hooked up to an electroencephalography machine, which measures electrical activity in the brain. The study showed that the brain waves of the guitarists became more synchronized as they played. Several regions of the brain reflected the coordination. The frontal and central regions of the brain exhibited the strongest synchronization. But even the temporal and parietal regions showed a high level of synchronization in at least half of the pairs of musicians.

The study, which is published online today in BMC Neuroscience, suggests that things people do together, called "interpersonally coordinated actions," are preceded and accompanied by brain wave coordination.

"In everyday life, people often need to coordinate their actions with that of others," the authors wrote. "Some common examples are walking with someone at a set pace, playing collective sports or fighting, dancing, playing music in a duet or group, and a wide range of social bonding behaviors (e.g., eye-gaze coordination between mother and infant or between partners)."

The study cannot prove, however, whether this coupling occurs in response to the beat of the music, watching each other's movements and listening to each other or whether the synchronization takes place first and fosters the coordinated performance. A video clip of the experiment is on the BMC Neuroscience website.

-- Shari Roan

Photo credit: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times

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