Hip hop therapy: Rap music can heal brain disorders

Music, as we know, is healing and research seeks to understand how it can interact positively for the benefit of our health. An interesting study explored the ability of the hip hop genre to foster certain brain abilities.

A team of experts from the University of Cambridge, are convinced that hip hop may have the ability to cure certain neurological disorders. The research team is analysing rappers’ brains to determine what effects this music has on the body and in particular on the brain.

According to what has been discovered so far, those who practice and listen to this genre are in a unique “state of flow” that triggers the action of some “parts of the brain responsible for emotions, language, motivation, motor function, and motor processing”. This type of stimulation, according to the research team, can greatly improve the lives of people suffering from neurological diseases.

The study, part of a larger program from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), also looked at other forms of music and analysed the brain of an opera star. Thus, it was found that different brain regions are more active when a singer imagines they are singing than when they did.

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We are trying to understand the brain not only to address mental disorders, diseases or injuries but also to understand what happens when a brain is functioning properly and when it is moving at a high level,” said researcher David Jangraw.

For victims of stroke or neurological disorders, music can also be very useful in cases where language and memory skills are impaired.

As the director of the NIH, Dr. Francis Collins, “The brain can sometimes compensate for other deficits by using music to communicate”.

Stroke survivors who cannot speak can sometimes sing and music therapy can help them. Likewise, Parkinson’s patients sometimes walk better when supported by a right-handed music background.

Essentially, the NIH program aims to improve doctors’ understanding of different musical forms so that they can use music in a healing way. Learning to play an instrument, for example, sharpens the way the brain processes and can improve children’s reading and other school skills.

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But back to hip hop, although this genre is often criticized for being accused of promoting violence, misogyny, and substance abuse, more and more people are starting to praise this rate for its therapeutic benefits. This is not the first time hip hop has been talked about when it comes to mental health.

In 2016, several New York schools drew attention because they had introduced a new program called “Hip-Hop Therapy,” designed to teach students healthy ways of self-expression.

But above all, there are two Cambridge researchers who are convinced that listening to and writing hip-hop music is a great way to express fears, fight depression, and other mental illnesses. They are neuroscientist Becky Ikster and psychiatrist Akeem Sule, founders of Hip Hop Psych, a project that also involves famous rappers and who wants to demonstrate how this very “strong” genre can help people to deal with their psychological problems and thus improve their mental health.

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Image of a girl undergoing music therapy for neurological disorders

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