Scientists Explore Healing Power of Rhythm
March 06, 2014

Researchers at the University of California say exposure to rhythm may help people with neurological diseases lead a better life. In their experiments, they are using the expertise of a well-known rock drummer.

Scientists say that timing is a key part of how the human brain works, and when the timing is off, so is the processing of information.

Using advanced technology, researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, are monitoring the brain of Mickey Hart. The drummer for the world-famous rock group The Grateful Dead is trying to navigate through a computer game using a set of electronic drums.

Neurologist Adam Gazzaley says the experiment combines neuroscience, gaming and the virtual world.

“So we couple these three different worlds together and use them to inform each other and create really the most powerful real time neural activity visualizer that anyone has ever seen," he said.

Hart wears a special headgear with screens and sensors as he plays. In the other room, scientists monitor how his brain responds to the rhythms, together with his eye movements, pulse and temperature.

All this translates to a real-time display of his brain’s activity. Hart says he is intrigued to know how what he calls, "this master clock,” works.

“What is this power and how do we use it and how to we repeat and how can we make a better world using the tools that we have been given," he said. "This super organism, there is nothing better than this, this master clock."

Gazzaley says he wants to see if rhythmic patterns could potentially re-wire damaged connections in a patient’s brain.

“So the idea is if we can teach the brain how to become a better timing machine, better rhythmically, that you, your brain can perform at a more optimal level and it will translate into how you interact with the world around you and lead to a better quality of life," he said.

Scientists say their ultimate goal is to use rhythm training and even video games to improve cognition and have a positive impact on the lives of people, with and without neurological issues.