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Christian Campbell
Christian Campbell


In 2007, neurologist Oliver Sacks released his book Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain in which he explores a range of psychological and physiological ailments and their intriguing connections to music. It is broken down into four parts, each with a distinctive theme; part one titled Haunted by Music examines mysterious onsets of musicality and musicophilia (and musicophobia). Part two A Range of Musicality looks at musical oddities musical synesthesia. Parts three and four are titled Memory, Movement, and Music and Emotions, Identity, and Music respectively. Each part has between six and eight chapters, each of which is in turn dedicated to a particular case study (or several related case studies) that fit the overarching theme of the section. Presenting the book in this fashion makes the reading a little disjointed if one is doing so cover to cover, however, it also means one may pick up the book and flip to any chapter for a quick read without losing any context. Four case studies from the book are featured in the NOVA program Musical Minds aired on June 30, 2009.



We do not argue that musicophilia is a universal marker of FTLD pathology: across our FTLD cohort, individual patients showed wide variation both in the extent and indeed the direction of their hedonic shift in response to music. This situation is somewhat reminiscent of the individual variation in musicality described among individuals with Williams' syndrome (Martens et al., 2010), or the behavioral heterogeneity of the dopamine dysregulation syndrome in Parkinson's disease (Merims and Giladi, 2008). The latter has been linked to dysfunction of distributed neural circuits including basal forebrain, limbic, and prefrontal cortical areas: interestingly, while a wide variety of addictive behaviors have been described, musicophilia appears to be uncommon (or perhaps under-reported as relatively benign). The sources of individual susceptibility to addictive behaviors in these conditions largely remain to be defined; however, we believe it is unlikely that musicophilia simply reflects the relative premorbid importance of music in patients' lives, as several of our cases with prominent musicophilia had no formal musical training. We hypothesize that the phenomenology of the behavior may have some specificity for the underlying neural substrate for the disease group as a whole; and in particular, that the development of musicophilia in FTLD is a novel behavioral signature of the salience and semantic networks previously implicated in the pathogenesis of FTLD (Seeley et al., 2009). However, it is important to recognize that musicophilia is part of a much wider repertoire of abnormal behaviors that emerge in FTLD, including other behaviors with obsessional or ritualistic features (Rascovsky et al., 2011). How musicophilia relates to this spectrum remains to be defined.

These cases, as you might guess, are rare. This fact might explain why there is relatively little literature on musicophilia and, consequently, why the phenomenon is poorly understood. A recent exception was a new paper by Phillip Fletcher and colleagues at the Dementia Research Centre at UCL (UK) who have looked into the brain basis of musicophilia in 12 patients.

The 12 patients in the current study who had musicophilia were compared against 25 patients who had FTLD without musicophilia. The groups did not differ in age, gender, or years of education and they performed similarly on tests of executive function, memory and visuoperceptual skills.

MRI scans were used to pinpoint any differences between the brains of FTLD patients with or without musicophilia. They also looked at the music listening interests of the two groups. Not surprisingly the musicophilic group spent more time listening to music. Interestingly the onset of the condition was often marked by a change in genre preference, e.g. from pop to jazz.

Hello Tiffany. Thank you for your comment. You may indeed have a form of musicophilia though the condition is rare. I am afraid I am not able to offer diagnosis over the internet so I always suggest to attend your doctor for advice if you are worried about your reactions to any stimulus, including music. But if your positive feelings that are inspired by music are helpful to you then it is quite possible that you have found a wonderful form of support for life; a flexible, safe and personalised sound that is unique to you. I wish you all the very best for the future.

Throughout Musicophilia, Sacks repeatedly (and correctly) identifies music,like language,as an ability that has developed uniquely (and universally) in humans, as opposedto animals. The very word musicophilia refers to this human propensityfor music. In describing the human ability of musical imagery, he writes 041b061a72


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