Steven Pinker, the Harvard University psychologist, has called it “auditory cheesecake.” It is noted for its powerful influence on mood. Many studies have even looked at it as another form of language. “It,” of course, is music—what Albert Einstein said gave him the “most joy in life.”
And indeed, as psychologist William Forde Thompson and neuroscientist Gottfried Schlaug write in this issue's cover story, “The Healing Power of Music,” tunes do evince a beneficial lift in mood. But rhythm, beat and melody do much more than set our toes to tapping: they also can help patients with brain disorders, such as from Parkinson's disease, stroke, autism and dementia, to recover spoken language, hearing, motion and emotion. Therapies that incorporate songs can foster neural connections and pathways that compensate for impairments in damaged areas of the brain.
Sometimes medicine is not enough, as journalist Molly Knight Raskin explores in her harrowing report, “Standing Up to Ebola,” about the fearsome virus that has raged through West Africa, killing more than 8,000 people by early January. Truly quelling a large-scale public health crisis such as that caused by Ebola requires infrastructure that tackles the associated critical mental health issues for the populace, as well as curing the infection itself.
Treating diseases that have physical causes is one thing. But what about when we simply think we have a problem—and we think it lasts for a long time? Consider the widespread belief that we must run amok sometime between the ages of 40 and 60. In “Debunking Midlife Myths,” psychologist Hanna Drimalla takes an evidence-based look at our seemingly wayward years, when happiness often reaches a low ebb as life changes threaten to overcome our equanimity. The good news: “midlife” is really not as bad as we think it is, and “crisis” turns out to be a bit of an exaggeration.
Speaking of perceptions brings to mind Susana Martinez-Conde, who, with Stephen L. Macknik, writes our Illusions column each issue, sits on Mind's board of advisers and has co-authored Sleights of Mind: What the Neuroscience of Magic Reveals about Our Everyday Deceptions (Henry Holt, 2010). In recognition of her work communicating neuroscience to the public, the Society for Neuroscience recently gave its annual Science Educator Award to Martinez-Conde. Congratulations, Susana! Go to http://bit.ly/1pwO9JZ to read more.