Premature babies tend to suffer from a number of deficiencies with the brain’s salience network, which is responsible for determining the importance of stimuli and communicating and coordinating responses with other brain networks, resulting in reduced cognitive function or difficulties managing emotions and social relationships later on. The intensive care units these babies need to spend their first few days, or even months in, can also contribute to the hindrance of development by being exceptionally stressful.
To combat this, researchers from the University of Geneva and the University Hospitals of Geneva sought to create a more soothing environment that could help foster healthy brain development, IFLScience reports. Enter composer Andreas Vollenweider.
After determining the types of music and sounds preterm babies found most soothing, he composed three eight-minute pieces that were played to babies in the ICU at three predetermined times throughout the day; when they were first waking up, during their waking hours, and as they were falling asleep. Researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans to compared the brains of the preterm babies to those of full-term babies. They found that those who had been exposed to music had a reached the same level of development as full-term babies, compared to those who had not.
The team plans to continue this research by examining the cognitive, social and environmental wellbeing of the child who were part of this study and are now approximately six years old.
Read the full study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.