Universalis, your very own breviary in pixels...

Thursday, 17 September 2009

"This is your brain on throat-singing...."

Fascinating idea: studies indicate that certain sounds "recharge" the human brain.
The effect of music on the brain has, of course, been explored quite extensively by academics.... many of whom have focused their investigations into the effects of chanting on the brain.

Dr Alfred Tomatis, a French specialist in otolaryngology, believes that the ear helps to recharge the brain; that sound causes vibration in our bones, which amplifies the sound thus making the cranium resonate, and this stimulates the stapes bone of the inner ear – which, in turn, stimulates the brain. Tomatis claims that for the ear to help recharge the brain it needs to hear "all the frequencies of the voice spectrum, roughly 70 cycles per second to 9,000 cycles per second". These are the frequencies that can be heard in Gregorian chants, the one-voice chord of Tibetan monks and the throat chanting found in east Europe.

And of course, I had to wonder, is this respectable science, or do I just really, really want it to be because it meshes with my own prejudices? Or is it merely something some writer with a deadline latched on to that's either ancient history, or more or less fabricated?

Well, ya can trust everything you read on Wikipedia, right?

Dr. Alfred A. Tomatis (January 1, 1920–December 25, 2001) [Ancient history] was an internationally known otolaryngologist, and inventor. He received his Doctorate in Medicine from the Paris School of Medicine. His alternative [maybe not quite respectable science?] medicine theories of hearing and listening are known as the Tomatis method or Audio-Psycho-Phonology .

His approach began as an effort to help professional singers in his native Nice based on his idea that hearing is the root cause of a variety of ailments. His Listening Test and later his Electronic Ear therapy were designed to alleviate these problems. Most of the research conducted on this approach has not found any support for its use.

Tomatis adapted his techniques to target diverse disorders including auditory processing problems, dyslexia, learning disabilities, attention deficit disorders, autism, and sensory integration and motor-skill difficulties. It is also claimed to have helped adults fight depression, learn foreign languages faster, develop better communication skills, and improve both creativity and on-the-job performance. Some musicians, singers and actors also claim to have found it helpful in fine-tuning their artistic skills.

The Tomatis Method uses altered recordings of the patient's mother and extensively uses electronically modified music by Mozart. Some people therefore call it the Mozart Effect. [Ah. Okay, that old thing.] Tomatis wrote 14 books, and numerous articles. Only a few have been translated into English. The most complete book on Tomatis’ discoveries was written by one of his students, Pierre Sollier (Listening for Wellness, 2005, The Mozart Center Press).

... Soon after he began his practice, his father began sending him opera colleagues with voice problems. Tomatis soon discovered not only did traditional treatments not work but also that there was very little research on the voice. He came up with the theory that many of the voice problems were really hearing problems. He called his theory that "The voice does not produce what the ear does not hear," the "Tomatis effect" and was the hallmark of his career and his method.

He found that the voices of opera singers had damaged their own ears. While the ear can be damaged with sounds of 80 or 90 decibels, a male opera singer often produced 150 decibels. With damaged hearing, they were forcing their voices to produce sounds in registers they could no longer hear. In his attempt to retrain the singers, he developed his device, the Electronic Ear, which used earphones and sound filters to enhance the missing frequencies. The goal was to sensitize them to the missing frequencies.

Tomatis began treating a number of other problems with the same methods, including reading problems, dyslexia, depression, severe schizophrenia, and even autism. He was convinced that many of these problems result from a failure of communication, which has to do with listening and the ear. His approach was based on emerging knowledge of the physiology of the ear.

Scientific reports showed that the ear starts forming a few days after conception and that the ear is fully developed by the fourth month of pregnancy. Tomatis theorized that information coming from the fetal ear stimulates and guides the development of the brain. He believed that autism is a communication problem that begins in pregnancy, with the fetus not properly responding to the voice of the mother.

His most controversial method attempts to lead autistic children to recognize and respond to their mother's voice. He devised an apparatus to simulate the sound of the mother's voice as heard in the uterus, and to lead the child gradually to accept and respond to her real unfiltered voice. He reported that this method often brought startling results, with children crying with joy as they recognized their mother's voice for the first time.

In many of the different problems he attempted to solve, Tomatis was often very Freudian. He believed that many problems of learning disabilities, dyslexia, depression, schizophrenia, and depression were caused by some trauma resulting from broken relationships and poor communication. He found that treatment of these maladies requires the cooperation of the parents and even grandparents.

Tomatis theorized that the whole body is involved in the production of speech and language. He stated that reading, even silent reading, is an activity of the ear. He recommended reading out loud, not only for children and by children, but also by adults, for 30 minutes a day. He claimed this not only stimulates the brain but is the best way to learn.

In his autobiography, Tomatis recounts the many conflicts he had with the medical establishment in both France and Canada, where he later worked. He finally gave up and turned in his medical license, admitting that he was practicing very little medicine. He named his new field audio-psycho-phonology.

Tomatis reported in his autobiography that he regretted not providing scientific colleagues with more statistical evidence for his work along with his many publications. But he claimed that the benefits of his methods are difficult to measure.

The theory of the method was investigated in 1979 by Gomez for a masters thesis with thesis advisor Tomkiewicz at INSERM and published a few years later. The summary (translated) states: "We show how the scientific and ideological presuppositions which underlie his conception of psychopathology, based on intuition and magic thought, cannot constitute a coherent theoretical model."

Studies by John Kershner conclude that there is a lack of support for the educational efficacy of the Tomatis Listening Training Program (LTP) for learning disabled children. This 2 year study was limited to group of 26 students and used an auditory placebo similar to the LTP program. Tim Gilmor's meta-analysis, covering four smaller studies of the Tomatis method, including Kershner's work, found that "Positive effects sizes were found for each of the five behavioral domains analyzed".

The status of research was evaluated in an article by Jill Lawton. She stated "There were also not many objective test results available. Most studies were either not scientific, as in the case of Mrs. Flores' testimonial or the story of the monastery, or taken by centers that were probably trying to 'sell' the program."

A study was undertaken by the University of California on autistic children using the Tomatis sound therapy, its findings were published in 2007. The method used was randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover design. The study showed that there was improvement in the children, however none of it related to the treatment. The children that were given the placebo showed a higher percentage of improvement over those given the Tomatis treatment. The study concluded there was no improvement in language using the Tomatis Method.
And as I read it through, I realized, I think I babysat for a family in the '90s, watching the other three children while the parents flew their autistic son overseas in search of ANY efficacious therapy -- it may well have been to see Tomatis?

No comments: