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11 Problems Music Can Solve

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REUTERS/PETR JOSEK/LANDOV

Music is a splendid thing. It can cheer you up when you're sad, make you dance like a fool, and allow you to drown out the world when you need to. But music has its scientific uses, too. The documentary Alive Inside details how dementia patients react positively when given iPods filled with their old favorite songs. The music seems to help them "come alive" again. While listening to familiar songs, many of the documentary's patients can sing along, answer questions about their past, and even carry on brief conversations with others.

"Music imprints itself on the brain deeper than any other human experience," says neurologist Oliver Sacks, who appears in the film. "Music evokes emotion, and emotion can bring with it memory."

The documentary follows recent studies showing that music can improve the memories of dementia patients, and even help them develop new memories.

Here, a look at some other things music has been known to "cure":

1. Low Birth Weight

Babies born too early often require extended stays in the hospital to help them gain weight and strength. To help facilitate this process, many hospitals turn to music. A team of Canadian researchers found that playing music to preemies reduced their pain levels and encouraged better feeding habits, which in turn helped with weight-gain. Hospitals use musical instruments to mimic the sounds of a mother's heartbeat and womb to lull premature babies to sleep. Researchers also say that playing calming Mozart to premature infants significantly reduces the amount of energy they expend, which allows them gain weight.

It "makes you wonder whether neonatal intensive care units should consider music exposure as standard practice for at-risk infants," says Dr. Nestor Lopez-Duran at child-psych.org.

2. Droopy Plants

If music helps babies grow, can it do the same thing for plants? Dorothy Retallack says yes. She wrote a book in 1973 called The Sound of Music and Plants, which detailed the effects of music on plant growth. Retallack played rock music to one group of plants and easy listening music to another, identical group. At the end of the study, the 'easy listening' plants were uniform in size, full and green, and were even leaning toward the source of the music. The rock music plants had grown tall, but they were droopy, with faded leaves, and were leaning away from the radio.

3. The Damaging Effects of Brain Damage

Of the 1.5 million Americans who sustain brain damage each year, roughly 90,000 of them will be left with a long-term movement or speech disability. As treatment, researchers use music to stimulate the areas of the brain that control these two functions.

When given a rhythm to walk or dance to, people with neurological damage caused by stroke or Parkinson's disease can "regain a symmetrical stride and a sense of balance." The beats in music help serve as a footstep cue for the brain.

Similarly, rhythm and pitch can help patients sing what words they can't say. A study of autistic children who couldn't speak found that music therapy helped these children articulate words. Some of these kids said their first words ever as a result of the treatment.

"We are just starting to understand how powerful music can be. We don't know what the limits are." says Michael De Georgia, director of the Center for Music and Medicine at Case Western Reserve University's University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Cleveland.

4. Teen Loitering

Public libraries, malls, and train stations already know this: Teenagers typically don't like classical music. In fact, they dislike it so much that "it sends them scurrying away like frightened mice," says the LA Times. The theory is that when the brain hears something it dislikes, it suppresses dopamine, "the pleasure chemical." And as teenagers' moods fall, they go elsewhere to find something to bring it back up.

So if you want the neighbor kids to get off your lawn, turn up the Tchaikovsky.

5. Hearing Loss

OK, maybe music can't cure hearing loss, but it may help prevent it. A study of 163 adults, 74 of them lifelong musicians, had participants take a series of hearing tests. The lifelong musicians processed sound better than non-musicians, with the gap widening with age. "A 70-year-old musician understood speech in a noisy environment as well as a 50-year-old non-musician," explains Linda Searling at the Washington Post.

6. A Broken Heart

Not the kind caused by rejection, but the kind caused by a heart attack. Music can help patients who are recovering from heart attacks and heart surgery by lowering blood pressure, slowing the heart rate and reducing anxiety. As a preventative, try listening to "joyful" music, or songs that make you feel good. Research says listening to songs that evoke a sense of joy causes increased circulation and expanded blood vessels, which encourages good vascular health.

7. Poor Sport Performance

In 2005, a UK study found that listening to music during sports training can boost athletic performance by up to 20 percent. That's roughly equal to the boost some athletes get from illegal performance-enhancing drugs, except music doesn't show up on a drug test. For best results, try music with a fast tempo during intense training and slower songs during cooldown.

8. Grumpy Teens

In a 2008 study, researcher Tobias Greitemeyer wanted to study how lyrics impacted teenagers' attitudes and behavior. To do so, he exposed one group of teens to "socially conscious" songs with a positive message, like Michael Jackson's "Heal the World." Another other group listened to songs with a "neutral" message. The researchers then "accidentally" knocked over a cup of pencils. The group listening to positive songs not only rushed to help more quickly, but picked up five times as many pencils as the other group.

9. Illiteracy

A 2009 study comparing two groups of second graders from similar demographics suggests learning music boosts reading abilities. The only major difference between the two groups was that one learned music notation, sight-reading and other skills, while the control group did not. Each group was tested for literacy before and after the school year. The end-of-year scores for the control group improved only slightly from their beginning of the year scores, while the kids with a music education scored "significantly higher," especially on vocabulary tests.

10. Sluggish Alcohol Sales

Are you a wine store owner suffering from an overstock of German vino? Try pumping some German tunes through your store. A 1999 study showed that doing so boosted German wine sales, and similarly, playing French music boosted French wine sales. Customers said they were completely oblivious to what music was being played.

11. Wine Snobbery

Ever purchased a bottle of wine with recommended listening printed on the bottle? Well, makers of cheap wine may want to consider that tactic. A group of researchers say certain types of music can "enhance" the way wine tastes by up to 60 percent. In a study, wine-drinkers rated white wine as 40 percent more refreshing when it was accompanied by "zingy and refreshing" music ("Just Can't Get Enough" by Nouvelle Vague was their go-to zingy song). The taste of red wine was altered 60 percent by "powerful and heavy music" like Orff's "Carmina Burana."

"The tongue is easy to dupe." says Jonah Lehrer at Wired.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have some $8 chardonnay that needs a little help from Tina Turner.

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The 10 Best Sci-Fi Movies on Netflix Right Now
Disney/Marvel
Disney/Marvel

If you’re in the mood for some speculative fiction and your pile of Arthur C. Clarke books has been exhausted, you could do worse than to tune in to Netflix. The streaming service is constantly acquiring new films in the sci-fi and fantasy genres that should satisfy most fans of alternative futures. Here are five of the best sci-fi movies on Netflix right now.

1. CUBE (1997)

This low-budget independent film may have helped inspire the current "escape room" attraction fad. Six strangers wake up in a strange room that leads only to other rooms—all of them equipped with increasingly sadistic ways of murdering occupants.

2. METROPOLIS (1927)

Inspiring everything from Star Wars to Lady Gaga, Fritz Lang’s silent epic about a revolt among the oppressed people who help power an upper-class city remains just as visually impressive today as it did nearly 100 years ago.

3. TROLL HUNTER (2010)

A Norwegian fairy tale with bite, Troll Hunter follows college-aged filmmakers who convince a bear trapper to take them along on his exploits. But the trapper fails to disclose one crucial detail: He hunts towering, aggressive trolls.

4. NEXT (2007)

Nic Cage stars a a magician who can see a few minutes into the future. He's looking to profit with the skill: the FBI and others are looking to exploit it.

5. THE HOST (2006)

A slow-burn monster movie from South Korea, The Host has plenty of tense scenes coupled with a message about environmental action: The river-dwelling beast who stalks a waterfront town is the product of chemical dumping.  

6. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOLUME 2 (2017)

Marvel's tale of a misfit band of space jockeys was a surprise hit in 2014. The sequel offers more Groot, more Rocket Raccoon, and the addition of Kurt Russell as a human manifestation of an entire sentient planet.

7. STARDUST (2007)

Director Matthew Vaughn's adaptation of the Neil Gaiman novel features Michelle Pfeiffer and Robert De Niro as supporting players in the tale of a man (a pre-Daredevil Charlie Cox) in search of a fallen star to gift to his love.

8. KING KONG (2005)

Director Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings) set his considerable sights on a remake of the 1933 classic, with the title gorilla pestered and exploited by opportunistic humans.

9. DONNIE DARKO (2001)

What will a teenage mope do when a giant rabbit tells him the world is about to end? The answer comes in this critical and cult hit, which drew attention for its moody cinematography and an arresting performance by a then-unknown Jake Gyllenhaal.  

10. ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY (2016)

Soon we'll have a movie for every single major or minor incident ever depicted in the Star Wars universe. For now, we'll have to settle for this one-off that explains how the Rebel Alliance got their hands on the plans for the Death Star.

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9 False Rumors With Real-Life Consequences
King Louis XV of France
King Louis XV of France
Library and Archives Canada, Wikimedia // Public Domain

Don’t believe everything you read—or everything you hear. Unverified but plausible-sounding rumors have been the basis for violent death and destruction throughout history, whether or not the stories had anything to do with the truth.

In their book A Colorful History of Popular Delusions, Robert Bartholomew and Peter Hassall describe rumors as “stories of perceived importance that lack substantiating evidence.” They also note that the sociologist Tamotsu Shibutani describes rumors as “improvised news,” which tends to spread when the demand for information exceeds supply. Such an information deficit most often occurs during wars and other crises, which might explain why some rumors have had such dramatic results. Here’s a selection of some of the most interesting rumors with real-life results collected in Bartholomew and Hassall’s book.

1. KING LOUIS XV WAS KIDNAPPING CHILDREN.

In 1750, children began disappearing from the streets of Paris. No one seemed to know why, and worried parents began rioting in the streets. In the midst of the panic, a rumor broke out that King Louis XV had become a leper and was kidnapping children so that he could bathe in their blood (at the time, bathing in the blood of children was thought by some to be an effective leprosy cure).

The rumor did have a tiny kernel of truth: Authorities were taking children away, but not to the king’s palace. A recently enacted series of ordinances designed to clear the streets of “undesirables” had led some policemen—who were paid per arrest—to overstep their authority and take any children they found on the streets to houses of detention. Fortunately, most were eventually reunited with their parents, and rumors of the king’s gruesome bathing rituals were put to rest.

2. LONDON WAS GOING TO BE DESTROYED BY AN EARTHQUAKE.

Two small earthquakes struck London at the beginning of 1761, leading to rumors that the city was due for “the big one” on April 5, 1761. Supposedly, a psychic had predicted the catastrophe. Much of the populace grew so panicked that they fled town for the day, with those who couldn’t afford fancier lodgings camping out in the fields. One soldier was so convinced of the impending doom that he ran through the streets shouting news of London’s imminent destruction; sadly, he ended up in an insane asylum a few months later.

3. JEWS WERE POISONING WELLS.

A deep well
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Reports that Jews ritually sacrificed Christian children were not uncommon during the Middle Ages, but things took a particularly terrible turn during the spread of the Black Plague. In the 14th century, thousands of Jews were killed in response to rumors that Satan was protecting them from the plague in exchange for poisoning the wells of Christians. In 1321 in Guienne, France alone, an estimated 5000 Jews were burned alive for supposedly poisoning wells. Other communities expelled the Jews, or burned entire settlements to the ground. Brandenburg, Germany, even passed a law denouncing Jews for poisoning wells—which of course they weren't.

4. BRIGANDS WERE TERRORIZING THE FRENCH COUNTRYSIDE.

In July 1789, amid the widespread fear and instability on the eve of the French revolution, rumors spread that the anti-revolutionary nobility had planted brigands (robbers) to terrorize the peasants and steal their stores of food. Lights from furnaces, bonfires, and even the reflection of the setting sun were sometimes taken to be signs of brigands, with panic as the predictable result. Provincial towns and villages formed militias in response to the rumors, even though, as historian Georges Lefebvre put it, “the populace scared themselves.” In one typical incident, near Troyes on July 24, 1789, a group of brigands were supposedly spotted heading into some woods; an alarm was sounded and 3000 men gave chase. The “brigands” turned out to be a herd of cattle.

5. GERMAN-AMERICANS WERE PLOTTING SNEAK ATTACKS ON CANADA.

Officers of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police marching in a Canada Day parade
iStock

Canada entered World War I in 1914, three years before the United States did. During the gap period, rumors circulated that German-Americans sympathetic to their country of origin were planning surprise attacks on Canada. One of the worst offenders of such rumor-mongering, according to authors Bartholomew and Hassall, was British consul-general Sir Courtenay Bennett, then stationed in New York. In the early months of 1915, Bennett made “several sensational claims about a plan in which as many as 80,000 well-armed, highly trained Germans who had been drilling in Niagara Falls and Buffalo, New York, were planning to invade Canada from northwestern New York state.” Bizarre as it may sound, there was so much anxiety and suspicion during the period that Canadian Prime Minister Sir Robert Borden requested a report on the story, which the Canadian police commissioner determined to be without any foundation whatsoever.

6. THE INDONESIAN GOVERNMENT WAS HUNTING HEADS FOR CONSTRUCTION PROJECTS.

In certain parts of Indonesia, locals reportedly believe—or once did—that large-scale construction projects require human heads to keep the structures from crumbling. In 1937, one island was home to a spate of rumors saying that a tjoelik (government-sanctioned headhunter) was looking for a head to place near a local jetty construction project. Locals reported strange noises and sights, houses pelted with stones, and attacks from tjoelik wielding nooses or cowboy lassos. Similar rumors surfaced in 1979 in Indonesian Borneo, when government agents were supposedly seeking a head for a new bridge project, and in 1981 in Southern Borneo, when the government headhunters supposedly needed heads to stabilize malfunctioning equipment in nearby oil fields. Terrified townspeople began curtailing their activities so as not to be in public any longer than necessary, although the rumors eventually died down.

7. POWERFUL APHRODISIAC GUM WENT ON SALE IN THE MIDDLE EAST.

An assortment of sticks of pink bubble gum
iStock

In the mid-1990s, the Middle East was home to some alarming rumors about aphrodisiacal gum. In 1996 in Mansoura, Egypt, stories began spreading that students at the town’s university had purchased gum deliberately spiked with an aphrodisiac and were having orgies as a result. One local member of parliament said the gum had been distributed by the Israeli government as part of a plot to corrupt Egyptian youth. Mosque loudspeakers began warning people to avoid the gum, which was supposedly sold under the names “Aroma” or “Splay.” Authorities closed down some shops and made arrests, but never did find any tainted gum. Similar rumors cropped up the following year in the Gaza Strip, this time featuring a strawberry gum that turned women into prostitutes—supposedly, the better to convince them to become Shin Bet informants for the Israeli military.

8. SORCERERS WERE PLAGUING INDONESIA.

In the fall of 1998, a sorcerer scare in East Java, Indonesia, resulted in the deaths of several villagers. The country was in crisis, and while protests raged in major cities, some in the rural area of Banyuwangi began agitating for restitution for past wrongs allegedly committed by sorcerers. The head of the local district ordered authorities to move the suspected sorcerers to a safe location, a process that included a check-in at the local police station. Unfortunately, villagers took the suspects’ visits to police stations as proof of their sorcery and began killing them. Anthropologists who studied the incident said the stories of supposed sorcery—making neighbors fall sick, etc.—were based entirely on rumor and gossip.

9. OBAMA WAS INJURED BY A WHITE HOUSE EXPLOSION.

These days, rumors have advanced technology to help them travel. On April 23, 2013, a fake tweet from a hacked Associated Press account claimed that explosions at the White House had injured Barack Obama. That lone tweet caused instability on world financial markets, and the Standard and Poor’s 500 Index lost $130 billion in a short period. Fortunately, it quickly recovered. (Eagle-eyed journalists were suspicious of the tweet from the beginning, since it didn’t follow AP style of referring to the president with his title and capitalizing the word breaking.)

An earlier version of this story ran in 2015.

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