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NCCIH Research Blog

Symposium To Explore Science of Music, the Brain, and Health

April 30, 2018

Emmeline Edwards, Ph.D.

Emmeline Edwards, Ph.D.


Division of Extramural Research

National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health

View biographical sketch

Can music help people feel better? Many of us would like to say, “Of course it can.” But what does the research say?

The fact is that rigorous, systematic investigation of the impact of music on health—particularly in the areas of management of chronic pain and treatment of opioid-use disorder—is just beginning.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has partnered with the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, in association with the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), in an initiative called Sound Health to explore the relationship between music, the brain, and health and wellness. I had the privilege of serving as co-chair and panelist at a workshop that initiated Sound Health activities, including the forming of a trans-NIH working group to develop a research agenda. Recently, we published our report in Neuron (a summary is available in an NCCIH research spotlight).

At the International Congress on Integrative Medicine and Health, leaders in this field will share information on the latest scientific discoveries and government initiatives related to music, the brain, and health, with an emphasis on chronic pain and pain management. This symposium, “Music, the Brain, and Chronic Pain,” is on Thursday, May 10 from 1:45 to 3:00 p.m. It will follow on, and expand upon, a breakfast roundtable discussion to be held earlier that day: “Creative Art Therapies (e.g., Music, Dance, Visual Arts) and Health: Early Evidence and Long-Range Promise.”

The symposium will feature the following speakers:

  • Mr. Sunil Iyengar, Director of the NEA’s Office of Research and Analysis, will describe the Federal Interagency Task Force on art-based therapies, introduce the concept of music as a game changer for brain health, and discuss its capacity to manage difficult symptoms like chronic pain.
  • Dr. Catherine Bushnell, Scientific Director of NCCIH’s Intramural Research Program, will update us on state-of-the-science research on brain mechanisms involved in pain.
  • Dr. Mathieu Roy, a behavioral and cognitive neuroscientist at McGill University, will discuss the brain mechanisms involved in music perception and production and how they relate to mechanisms of pain perception.
  • Dr. Joke Bradt, associate professor in the Department of Creative Arts Therapies at Drexel University, will describe recent clinical research on music-based therapies and their mechanisms of action for chronic pain management.
  • My colleague Dr. Wen Chen, Acting Branch Chief for Basic and Mechanistic Research at NCCIH, will join me in discussing Sound Health, other NIH research initiatives related to music, and gaps and opportunities in both basic/mechanistic and clinical research on music and health.

We hope you’ll join us for an in-depth look at emerging science and future directions in this intriguing topic area.

Tags: Meetings


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