ICMPC 12 Day 2: Morning posters

The rest of the morning on Day 2 was filled with more of the 5 minute poster presentations. I am getting used to this format now and have learned to strike a balance between getting as much new information as I can handle and fact overload! I think my naivety with this balance explains partly my overactive brain on the first night. This time I made sure to just chose a select few presentations and save the rest for the poster session.

The first session of the day was focused on ‘Health and Welbeing’.

The first poster presentation I attended was that of my MMB masters student Mike Wammes. Mike has an air of eternal calm so when his computer committed suicide overnight he was miffed (understandably) but not fazed, and in the end he gave a great overview of his work just using cue cards. In fact I found that I focused more on his words than many of the presenters who used PowerPoint. This did lead me to wonder whether it was always wise to use PowerPoint in these short presentations. Food for thought.

Mike presented his findings regarding the experience of earworms (involuntary musical imagery, or the tune in the head phenomenon) for those who have schizophrenic illness. Schizophrenia and other forms of psychosis are frequently characterised by auditory hallucinations and Mike was interested to explore how the patients viewed their earworms by comparison; could they differentiate them, how did they react to them, could they attribute them correctly to internal processes etc.

Mike found that people who scored higher on a Schizotypcal Personality Questionnaire reported more persistent and distracting earworms that were more frequent and less pleasant.  They were also more likely to believe that their earworms were completely out of their control. Overall the data indicates that the schizophrenic patients often confused their hallucinations and earworms, and showed more difficulty attributing these experiences to mental phenomenon over which they potentially had control.

On the positive note, their earworms were seen as a method for mood and symptom regulation. Earworms were very low on their priority symptom list and their experiences were not something that they tended to talk about too much with their physician. They still engaged with, and enjoyed, music.

I then heard two talks that focused on Parkinson’s disease and the role that music may play in rehabilitation of motor movements. Parkinson’s was described more than 200 years ago in the medical literature but sadly we are no closer to really understanding why the brain degenerates is this way and how we might cure the condition (see a previous related blog of mine)

Parkinson’s is characterised by tremors, rigidity in movement, akinesia and a difficulty in starting movement. An area at the base of the brain known as the Basal Ganglia is often linked to the condition; it is also frequently reported in studies of rhythmic motor responses to music.. So can music help restore movement in Parkinson’s?


The first group from Simone Della Balla’s lab showed an impressive video of a lady attempting to walk around her house unaided and then with the influence of a rhythmic metronome. The comparison was striking, as you could not guess that she had the condition in the second video. You can see a similar effect in this rather amazing YouTube video.

The second group from Devin McAuley’s lab had conducted an experiment looking at the effect of different tempos on the ability to discriminate between different rhythms. Typically people are better with simple rhythms that have a clear beat as opposed to more complex rhythms, an effect that has been termed the Beat Based Advantage (BBA); Parkinson’s patients do not show a BBA.

The researchers tried to elicit the BBA in typical controls using both stimuli with long empty intervals and filled intervals; the BBA was larger in the stimuli with the empty intervals.  They also found that slowing the rhythms impaired discrimination, and mirrored the pattern of performance seen in Parkinson’s patients. This evidence offers an insight into the experiences of those with Parkinson’s and offers insights into how sounds might be optimally modified to support music interventions, such as the study above.

The next presentation moved on slightly to look at movement disorders in stroke patients.  The authors explored a type of therapy that involved learning to play a keyboard with the hope of improving motor function. They manipulated the auditory feedback so some patients heard the piano tones as soon as they struck the note and some had delays between 100-600ms. This length of delay would sound terrible to a pianist but apparently the patients hardly noticed (perhaps a sign of their condition).

The authors postulated that immediate feedback would be ideal for therapy – they found the exact opposite! The delay conditions resulted in better patient outcomes. It is not clear yet why the delay had beneficial effects but it may be that this condition promotes more independent and flexible re-learning of motor skills that are less dependent on the auditory coupling.

At this point the room changed over and got ready for the second session on ‘Musical experience and Commuication’….

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