Hip-Hop Is Good For The Brain. A New Study Proves It.

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As the world’s most dominant musical culture, Hip-Hop is permeating more than our earbuds. Generations of people around the world have been raised on Rap music as well as the fashion, dance, clothing and personal choices it inspires which, in effect, changes the way we think about and move through society.

That’s the premise of an essay recently published by Mashable titled “This is your brain on Hip-Hop: how Rap music affects human emotion.” Created in partnership with Bose, the essay is interactive in the sense it includes audio and informative graphics. In its introduction, it points to the growing presence of “Hip-Hop therapy” as “as a viable tactic for treating mental illness and cognitive disorders like depression and anxiety” and announces its goal of “investigating the science behind how music moves us on a psychological, emotional, and physical level.” Though obviously a marketing strategy for Bose’s QC35 II headphones (“with pioneered, noise-cancelling technology, which helps you feel the music — with nothing in the way”), the essay does provide statistical data and informative content.

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It begins with historical context as it relates to Hip-Hop therapy, which the essay credits t0 psychiatrist Dr. Akeem Sule and  clinical neuroscientist Dr. Becky Inkster of Cambridge University who in 2014 published the most well known study on Hip-Hop and therapy. “[R]esearchers posit that Rap music and Hip-Hop may be useful tools for treating patients with depression or low self-esteem,” the essay says.  Out of the research grew a social venture which uses Rap lyrics to discuss issues pertaining to mental health, known as Hip-Hop Psych. As the essay explains, “The researchers hope the project will help break down barriers and stigmas within the Hip-Hop industry and will facilitate better conversations about mental health.”

Much of the efficacy of Hip-Hop therapy is attributed to “positive visual imagery” in Rap lyrics, exemplified by songs “that detail people who rise from the ashes of poverty or overcome significant obstacles to find fame, fortune, admiration, and redemption.” The essay points to music’s ability to “pump up” athletes before a big game and suggests a similar application of “confidence-boosting messaging” can help those suffering with things like anxiety and depression. That’s because music affects the brain’s four major lobes the frontal, parietal, temporal and occipital. The auditory processing of sound is complex, but scientists have known for decades that listening to music can have discernible effects on human emotion and behavior. As the essay says, “Multiple researchers have noted a link between music and dopamine. But most studies agree that while there are commonalities among various genres and physiological responses, each person reacts differently to different musical stimuli.”

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As it pertains to Hip-Hop, much of the science is still developing but is already suggesting “there are strong ties to emotional as well as creative reserves.” Unfortunately, the essay doesn’t expound on how scientists have come to that conclusion, but it does offer some interesting science about the rapper’s brain while it’s freestyling. Recently, the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication studied the brains of 12 rappers (names are not included) under an fMRI machine as they recited both memorized lyrics and freestyle rhymes.

“During the ‘flow,’ phase, the rappers’ brain activity displayed unique patterns in areas relating to motivation, language, emotion, motor function, and sensory processing,” the essay says of the Institute’s findings. “According to the scientists’ interpretation, this suggests that the rappers actually enter something akin to an ‘alternate state of mind’ while freestyling. The findings are similar to other studies on the improvisation of jazz musicians — and suggest that the act of making music taps into complex creative reserves in truly astounding ways.”

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The writers of the Mashable essay do not conduct any scientific research of their own and do not provide links to any of the source material referenced within. However, HipHopTherapy.org is a phenomenal resource for those looking to explore further the neuroscience behind Rap music and the human brain.