Music Tied to Brain's Reward Center, and more great stories! (Round Up, May 6th)

Welcome to May everyone! Let's dive into the Round Up, our weekly collection of the top stories in music and healthcare.


The Barista (Atlanta Journal Constitution)

Cool local story here! This story details Omar, who is an adult on the autism spectrum, and his journey to independent living, made possible in part through his job as a barista at a local chain of car dealers (Nalley). Great to see local businesses giving opportunities for people to live fulfilling, self-supported lives!


Half of all children with autism will run away (ABC News)

Scary statistics from this ABC News story. Half of all children with autism will run away at some point. This serves as an important reminder of safety precautions to take with children on the spectrum. It also serves to remind us the importance of teaching children how to answer biographical questions about themselves, such as "Where do you live?" "Where do you go to school?" "What's your phone number?" and "What's your name?," so that when approached by someone after running away, they can be reconnected with their family.

Here at The George Center, we frequently address this goal by teaching this information based on songs. Our own Ms. Laurie had the fantastic idea of teaching phone numbers using "Call Me" by Blondie!


 Children's Healthcare to invest nearly $20M in hospital expansions (Atlanta Business Chronicle)

Children's Healthcare of Atlanta is a special place, and they run a fantastic music therapy program with some truly talented MT's! It's great to see them thriving.


Brain's music pleasure zone identified (The Guardian)

Surprise, surprise! Music activates the reward centers of your brain.


Ready to learn more about music therapy? Contact us for a free consultation!


Science, Baseball, and Music Therapy

Research Series: We like science here on The George Center Blog. We love talking about music therapy research, and for good reason. Music therapy is a field that's based in evidence-based research, meaning that the techniques we use are supported by scientific experiments conducted by music therapists and other researchers throughout the world. Maintaining this level of research is not easy or cheap, but as a field it's vital we maintain this dedication to evidence-based interventions. Otherwise, we cannot ethically say that what we

As a result of this dedication, music therapy students get a heavy dose of research courses in both undergrad and graduate programs. But all this research talk comes with a lot of jargon that can get confusing. Let's detangle some of this research jargon! Here's part 3 of our series on research terminology, "sample size."

Allow me to break away from music talk for a minute and talk about my other love: sports. When discussing sample size, there's one sport that is the perfect example.

That sport is baseball.

Baseball is the ultimate statistical sport. The favorite game of stat nerds. Here's why:

Sample size.

Professional football teams in the NFL play 16 games in a season. Baseball teams play 10 times that amount. 162 games.

That's a lot of games! So why does that make it a statistician's dream? All because of the all important sample size.

Sample size is the amount of measurements of whatever it is we're observing. In our baseball example, it might be batting average. Having a larger sample size reduces the likelihood of random occurrences (remember significance?) skewing our results.

In football, a team may lose a game as a result of a random, unavoidable fumble. Maybe it was raining and the ball was wet. As a result of this one single random occurrence, their whole season could be derailed. They might be the best team in the league that year, but because of that freak incident, they don't win the championship. With only 16 games, it's bound to happen.

But with baseball teams, a single incident very rarely has a major effect on a season. Unless you're the Atlanta Braves. sigh.

When you play 162 games, those freak occurrences get buried by the sheer number of other games played. We call this regression to the mean (mean = average).

The Atlanta Braves are, sadly, experiencing this phenomenon right now, coming down off their incredible 12-1 start, they've gone on to lose 8 of their last 11 games. They've certainly regressed towards the mean. This could happen the other way too. A team might experience an uncharacteristic losing streak, but later find themselves clawing back. Baseball's large sample size dictates this.

So why is this important for research? What can happen when we have a small sample size? In the spirit of music therapy, let's use a song that never ceases to crack me up give us some examples:


When you have a small sample size, you can get results that are not indicative of the truth.

In research, sample size refers to the number of participants or measurements in a study. Typically in a music therapy study, the sample size is the number of participants in the study, such as the number of people in a music group and control group.

When reading a study, you'll see this number referred to as the "n," written as "n = 132" if there were 132 people in the study.

And here's where we run into difficulties when it comes to music therapy research. As we've discussed in previous posts, big pharmaceutical companies have vast research budgets, which allows them to do large scale studies with lots of participants. BIG sample sizes.

Sadly, music therapy doesn't quite have that kind of money. Plus, we work in sort of a niche field. So gathering large amounts of participants for research study can prove difficult. This is one of the criticisms of some music therapy research (not all, mind you, many studies have used large samples).

However, research in our field is growing daily (just take a look at our weekly Monday Round Ups!), it just takes time.

So there you have it! Sample size! You know, it might be an important thing to keep in mind next time you meet someone who makes a bad first impression...

All this music therapy research is cool, but how is it practical and applicable to you? We'd love to tell you more about what we do with our clients everyday! Sign up for a free consultation!


Image credit: Sean Winters


Research Series Part 2: Peer-Reviewed

Research Series: We like science here on The George Center Blog. We love talking about music therapy research, and for good reason. Music therapy is a field that's based in evidence-based research, meaning that the techniques we use are supported by scientific experiments conducted by music therapists and other researchers throughout the world. Maintaining this level of research is not easy or cheap, but as a field it's vital we maintain this dedication to evidence-based interventions. Otherwise, we cannot ethically say that what we

As a result of this dedication, music therapy students get a heavy dose of research courses in both undergrad and graduate programs. But all this research talk comes with a lot of jargon that can get confusing. Let's detangle some of this research jargon! Here's part 2 of our series on research terminology, "peer-reviewed."

What does "peer-reviewed" mean?

Welcome to part 2 of our research series! Today we're talking about the term "peer-reviewed." You might hear this term when we discuss various science publications, such as the Journal of Music Therapy. So what does that mean? And what's the big deal with peer review anyway?

It should come as no surprise to you that not everything you read on the internet is true. Anyone can be a publisher now, and you can distribute any kind of information you want to large audiences with no oversight. Heck, I could go around proclaiming that music therapy cures all known diseases, and no one can stop me. So much of what we read is "reader beware."

Side note: I promise to only publish truthfully things on this blog. I do my homework, I promise.

So what is the "gold standard" of publishing that we can stand by and assure that the information we publish is accurate?

That, dear readers, would be peer review.

Peer review is exactly what it sounds like: having others in your field review your work. In the case of scientific research, we refer to journals that use this method as "peer-reviewed journals."

In order for a research study to be published in a peer-reviewed journal (Such as the Journal of Music Therapy or Music Therapy Perspectives), it must go through a review process in which anonymous members of the editorial board and invited external reviews read the study (not knowing who wrote it, where they went to school, or any kind of identifying information) and pick apart the study to see if there's any reason to believe that the results were skewed. Perhaps an error in their process contaminated results. Additionally, the study process must be so thoroughly detailed that anyone should be able to replicate it and see similar results.

If it makes the grade, the study gets published! And since this study was reviewed by multiple professionals in the field, we can be assured that the results are reliable and replicable.

Without peer-review, we'd essentially have nothing more than press releases written by music therapists. There'd be no way of knowing for sure if their experiment truly worked, without bias.

Hope this post makes the cut...

We've got a whole team of bright music therapists who love to do nothing more than read research and apply it to their practice! Why not come in and meet us sometime?


What Does it Mean to be "Significant"?

Research Series: We like to talk about music therapy research on this blog, and for good reason. Music therapy is a field that's based in evidence-based research, meaning that the techniques we use are supported by scientific experiments conducted by music therapists and other researchers throughout the world. Maintaining this level of research is not easy or cheap, but as a field it's vital we maintain this dedication to evidence-based interventions. Otherwise, we cannot ethically say that what we

As a result of this dedication, music therapy students get a heavy dose of research courses in both undergrad and graduate programs. But all this research talk comes with a lot of jargon that can get confusing. So what are we talking about when we say that a music therapy technique "significantly" improved something? Let's detangle some of this research jargon! Here's part 1 of our series on research terminology, statistical significance.


Statistical Significance

The word significant has entered our vernacular to mean large, massive, great, etc. But what does that word mean when discussing research? It actually has a very specific, important meaning. It's not just something we throw around. When discussing a research study, we often say that a variable "significantly" affected another variable. Let's take this study from the Journal of Music Therapy on the long-term effect of once-a-week group music therapy sessions for elderly adults with moderate to severe dementia.

In this study, the researchers measured systolic blood pressure levels of the participants 1 and 2 years after the start of the music therapy group. The control group (the group that did not receive music therapy services) experienced significantly higher blood pressure levels. Blood pressure naturally increases as we age, so the fact that the music therapy group did not experience this increase is a big deal! All from once-a-week group music therapy sessions.

But what does it mean that the difference was "significant?" In order to scientifically prove something, we need to be sure that it didn't happen by random chance. Think of fortune cookies. I'm sure at some point, we've all had the experience of getting a fortune cookie that seemed to perfectly match our current life situation. We might stick this fortune in our wallet for safekeeping. But does that mean that fortune cookies are accurate predictors of our future? How many fortune cookies do you get, read the fortune, and toss in the trash? Probably a good amount. The fact that one of them matched our current situation was a coincidence. A random happening. Like one of my favorite sayings goes: "Even a broken clock is right two times a day."

So to ensure the result of a scientific experiment are accurate, we need a way to prove that the results didn't happen by random chance. So we do this with a degree of confidence. Once we've obtained our data (in our example, blood pressure), we can run some mathematical tests (for example, a chi-squared analysis) to see what the likelihood is that this event happened by random chance.

Every time we flip a coin, there's a 50% chance that it will land on heads. It's random. If after we ran our test on the blood pressure numbers, we saw that there was a 50% chance these levels happened by chance, we cannot say with scientific certainty that music therapy had any hand in that result. However, if our test reveals that there was only a 4% chance the blood pressure changes were a random event, then we CAN say that music therapy likely had an effect. We call this a significant difference.

So when we say that a variable had a significant effect, we mean there's a very small chance it happened by random, and we can be pretty confident that the results happened because of what we did. Our threshold for significance is typically between 5 - 10%. This number is sometimes referred to as the "alpha." The lower the number, the more confidence we can put behind the result.

Alright, that was quite a lecture, let's recap:

  • If something is significant, there's a VERY little (5%) chance it happened at random
  • We use mathematical tests to determine this percentage
  • If the chance that our result was random is OVER 5-10%, we cannot say that our intervention had anything to do with the result.

When it comes to music therapy, what does all this research mean to YOU? Let's talk about how music therapy can serve your needs!


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3 Studies that Support Music Therapy for Autism

Various organizations across the U.S. are putting together autism awareness/action months in April, and here at The George Center Blog, I wanted to highlight some ways that music therapy works with clients with autism spectrum disorders. Check out these 3 research articles that support music therapy as part of a treatment plan for clients with autism:

1. Music therapists address common goal areas of major autism treatment models.

In this study, the researchers video taped music therapy sessions, then had people trained in the SCERTS model (an autism treatment model, similar to ABA) rate which goal areas were being addressed. The three major goal areas of the SCERTS model were addressed: Social Communication, Emotional Regulation, and Transactional Support. Within each of these, goal areas such as symbol use, social communication, emotional regulation, and joint attention were addressed. This study shows that music therapy can effectively address goals that clients with autism are already working on in their treatment programs.

2. Music therapy incorporated with ABA Verbal Behavior approach can be used to effectively teach language skills.

In this study, the researchers compared a music-based ABA VB training to traditional ABA VB training. Both programs significantly improved language production, with the music-based program more effectively targeting echoic productions (over no music) and the no music group more effectively targeting tact production (over the music group).

3. Neurologic music therapy techniques can improve speech production in children with autism. 

This study again compared a music to no-music speech production training, this time a video based program. The study found that both the music and non-music groups significantly increased speech production over the control group. The music group however, was more effective for low functioning students than the non-music group.


Music therapy can be an effective mode of treatment for people of all ages with autism spectrum disorders. Find out more by talking with one of our therapists!



What if music therapy had Big Pharma money?

DISCLAIMER: I in no way intend to discount the scientific miracles that pharmaceuticals are able to pull off. Nor am I intending to imply that music therapy can somehow replace pharmaceutical drugs, or question the cost of developing new drugs. This is simply meant as a "What if?" piece. Enjoy!

A while back, I wrote a blog post on what the field of music therapy might look like if people like Mark Cuban, Richard Branson, or Sarah Blakely were music therapists. My hope for the post was to illustrate my idea that music therapy is perfectly fitted for the next wave of healthcare, which centers around patient-satisfaction.

I was reflecting back on this post recently, mainly thinking about how many of the companies founded by the above listed entrepreneurs started got funded. Take Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook for example. When he started Facebook, he really didn't know what he had started. He also didn't know how it would make money. Pretty important consideration for a business.

It wasn't until 2009, five years after Facebook began, that the company turned a profit. Yet they kept the lights on, paid their employees, and even expanded the company. How? Through good ol' investor funding of course! Wealthy individuals and firms gave Facebook money in its early days (including Bono from U2, true story) in hopes that they'll make money off the company in the future. Even before they knew how the company would make money, they believed Zuckerberg and his team would figure it out.

And therein lies the problem. In order for something to be scaled to a huge level, it takes quite a bit of start-up cash. Most small businesses (and healthcare private practices) don't have that luxury.

But in healthcare, there's another part of the equation that is extremely important in getting treatments accepted nationally: research.

Ah yes, research. That all important scientific process that tells us if what we're doing actually works and is worth pursuing. Oh sure, you could sell a therapy or supplement without it, but chances are it'll only be a flash in the pan, and never be accepted by the serious medical community. And for good reason. Peddling a treatment to those who need it that hasn't been scientifically tested is unethical, and let's be honest, immoral.

Yet, research takes a lot of money. A treatment/drug must be developed by a qualified professional, tested in labs, go through medical trials in the real world, receive approval from the appropriate regulatory committees, etc. All that work really adds up. How much?

How does $1.3 Billion for one single drug sound?

Yep. That's Billion with a B. $1,300,000,000.

Now, I'm fully aware that there are serious issues in the world of big pharma and research. Pharmaceutical companies are willing to pay for this research because they can license a drug and profit off its sale. There are lots of ethical issues surrounding this process, not the least of which includes doctors receiving benefits from a drug company for writing lots of prescriptions for their drug. We could also debate the merits and ethical considerations of drug company profits, and who ends up swallowing the costs of that $1.3B price tag.

But I don't wan't to dive down that rabbit hole right now. Another time and another place. Put aside the squeamish feelings you get thinking about the cost of healthcare, and let's agree on this: research is expensive, but necessary.

What I want to do here is raise a question: What if music therapy research was funded like pharmaceutical research?

We've got a great base of research in music therapy. The field maintains several peer-reviewed journals, and our interventions and methods are all evidence-based. However, simply due to the small size of our field, the depth of our research still lags behind the larger allied health fields such as occupational therapy or speech-language pathology.

Part of the reason for this stems from the fact that research typically relies on the faculty at universities, and there just aren't many music therapy programs in the U.S. (compared to other allied health fields). Of the programs we have, most of the faculty members are primarily involved in teaching their students and cannot put as heavy an emphasis on research as faculty members in other fields are able to.

So what might our field look like if we were able to spend $1.3 billion dollars on music therapy research? Let's crunch some numbers shall we?

Let's say we set up a music therapy research firm that was solely focused on researching new music therapy interventions and best practices. Our budget: $1,300,000,000. Oh yes.

Well, with that kind of funding, we could hire an all-star staff of music therapy researchers. Let's say we want the best of the best, and we want to give them a sweet gig with great benefits. We're going to pay each of our researchers $200,000 a year (including benefits). Hey, we want the cream of the crop.

So how many of these super star researchers could we hire with our budget? How about 6,500. Yep. Each of them getting $200K a year, working full time on researching new music therapy interventions. That would make our research firm the 24th largest employer in Atlanta, right in between the Center for Disease Control and Kroger. Think we could churn out some serious research volume?

Why don't we reduce our staff to 5,000 research directors. Not bad, considering there are just over 5,500 board-certified music therapists anyway. That will leave us a cool $300,000,000 for other costs. Maybe a swanky office in Midtown Atlanta, some research assistants, maybe some marketers to get the word out on what we do, etc. And let's assume our researchers can churn out an average of 3 studies a year. With a salary and team like that, 3 per year sounds a little conservative, but we'll go with it.

So we're churning out 15,000 new research articles A YEAR! Wow. Each issue of the Journal of Music Therapy probably includes around 5 new articles. So we've got enough literature being churned out to fill 3,000 journals every year. The JMT is published every quarter, so that leaves us enough to last us 750 years.

I think we might need some more peer-reviewed journals...


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Image credit: Flickr user Images_of_Money (Original image)

Music and Empathy

More Ryan Gosling "Hey Girl" Memes at the end of the post! I'm going to make you read it first...

It should be no surprise that love and music go hand in hand. The ratio for love songs to songs about ANYTHING other than love must be around 6000:1. Some of the most iconic love stories of all time had classic love songs that sold millions of copies ("The Bodyguard," "Titanic," etc.). From heart-wrenching break up anthems, to first dances at weddings, music has always been associated with love and the roller coaster of emotion that comes with it.

But did you know that music does far more than just allow for an avenue of expression for love? Music making can actually teach children how to be empathetic and increase their ability to recognize the emotional states of others, in general increasing their emotional intelligence. Researchers at Cambridge University conducted a fascinating study to measure this.

52 children were divided amongst three groups. One group participated in a weekly music group for one hour that encouraged musical interactions between group members. A second group participated in drama-based games with no music, and the last group did not participate in either group.

The children from the music group performed significantly better on post-tests than the other groups. The post-test included a questionnaire, as well as a test which measured the children's ability to remember the emotional states of actors in short videos. The researchers deemed that the music group helped children to develop "shared intentionality" and "mutual honesty," or understanding the intentions of their peers, which helped with an increased sense of empathy. As you can imagine, empathy for others is an important skill in developing healthy relationships with peers, friends, family, and loved ones.

This idea becomes particularly interesting when we examine the peer relationships of children with learning disabilities. Research shows that children with learning differences have a more difficult time forming friendships than their peers. The cause for this difficulty could be debated, but it would be reasonable to assume that greater empathy from students with and without learning disabilities may have a positive effect on how these two groups interact and learn from each other.

So you see, music is more than just telling someone we love them, it can actually help us develop the skills necessary to build healthy relationships.

Interested in starting a music group at your school? The George Center can design a weekly group for you that will build healthy relationship skills for your students! Let us tell you about it!