Under the Hood

Sting's Brain Scan Shows Neuroscientists How Singer Thinks About Music

Singer/songwriter Sting has been a prominent name in the music industry for over 45 years. The former vocalist and bassist for The Police has previously opened up about the role of music in his life. “I feel this music has nurtured me as I've been immersing myself in it. I've felt supported by it,” he told The Telegraph

But how does music actually affect Sting’s mind? The musician agreed to participate in an unusual neuroscience study based on brain scans. The results showed different songs that sound similar or different to Sting, and could provide insight into how gifted people, including artists and writers, find connections between things that others might not. 

Musician Sting Singer/songwriter Sting agreed to participate in an unusual neuroscience study based on brain scans. Photo courtesy of Getty Images/Adhil Rangel/LatinContent Stringer

"These state-of the-art techniques really allowed us to make maps of how Sting's brain organizes music," said lead author Daniel Levitin, a cognitive psychologist at McGill University. "That's important because at the heart of great musicianship is the ability to manipulate in one's mind rich representations of the desired soundscape."

After the research team conducted both functional and structural scans on Sting’s brain, they teamed up with Scott Grafton, a leading brain-scan expert at the University of California at Santa Barbara, to use two novel techniques to analyze the findings. The results showed which songs Sting found similar to one another and which ones are dissimilar.

"At the heart of these methods is the ability to test if patterns of brain activity are more alike for two similar styles of music compared to different styles. This approach has never before been considered in brain imaging experiments of music," Grafton noted.

The research linked several pieces of music that hadn’t been related before — like Piazzolla's "Libertango" and the Beatles' "Girl,” as well as Sting's own "Moon over Bourbon Street" and Booker T. and the MG's "Green Onions."The methods introduced in this paper, Levitin says, "can be used to study all sorts of things: how athletes organize their thoughts about body movements; how writers organize their thoughts about characters; how painters think about color, form and space."Source: Levitin DJ, Grafton ST. Measuring the representational space of music with fMRI: a case study with Sting. Neurocase. 2016.

Read more:

This Is Your Brain On Music: How Our Brains Process Melodies That Pull On Our Heartstrings

Brain Scans Reveal Which Networks Help Us To Learn A Foreign Language

Loading...