iPods increase likelihood of musical hallucinations?

headphones.jpgPsychiatrist Victor Aziz has suggested that some iPod users are experiencing musical hallucinations owing to the constant repetition of favourite songs.

Dr Aziz was recently featured in a New York Times article discussing musical hallucinations. This story was touted as ‘brain becomes an iPod’ because musical hallucinations can take the form of complete songs or melodies.

In an interesting twist, however, Aziz suggests the use of personal music players may lead to musical hallucinations in some people.

This is not as far fetched as it sounds. A recent brain scanning study used a technique where songs were silenced for short intervals when played, and showed that the auditory cortex remained active when people continued ‘hearing’ the silenced tune.

The constant repetition of the same music may produce a similar effect, perhaps leading to the hallucinations.

In July’s issue of the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry Aziz and colleague Nick Warner reviewed 30 cases of musical hallucinations in older people and found the hallucinations could be very specific and distinct:

The hymn ‘Abide with me’ was clearly the most frequent music heard. In 2/3 of cases religious music predominated, with Christmas music also common. In most cases the music took the form of solo voice (male or female) with instrumental backing. Two people could identify the singer (George Formby and Luciano Pavarotti).

Link to story ‘IPod hallucinations face acid test’.
Link to story ‘iPods could make you hallucinate’ from the London Evening Standard.
Link to New York times article ‘Neuron Network Goes Awry, and Brain Becomes an IPod’.

One thought on “iPods increase likelihood of musical hallucinations?”

  1. This does raise a few questions:
    – Why is the iPod mentioned? As a buzz word? Because people spend more time listening through headphones then in the cassette days? Because fourier-based encoding causes more halicunations? Because iPod headphones are so agressive?
    – When is a song that is ringing in your head an hallucination?
    I would like to read your view on this.
    The article about Victor Aziz on “thisislondon” a bit suggestive. And look at those ads! But mp3s! Compare iPod prizes!
    Listen to your iPod even if it’s off! It’s not a problem, it’s a feature!
    About filling in the gaps in audio:
    The fact that the brain fills in blanks is known to the people who made the mobile phones codecs. As packages of audio date are immediately played on arrival at the listener while the time the take to travel from one phone to another is uncertain, gaps occur. This would have been a problem, but if you fill in the gap with noise, the gap is unnoticed.
    The ear is not passive at all. It is scanning all the time. Not only on a brainlevel, but also physically. Your ear helps moving the membrane in the cochlea, to find out if it’s guesses were correct. Noise is not as obstructive for this scanning process as silence is.
    Thanks for the beautiful blog, BTW!

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