Boston Children’s Hospital

Musical training and executive functioning

Professor Nadine Gaab, associate professor of paediatrics at Boston Children’s Hospital Boston and the Harvard Medical School, and a member of the faculty at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, has shown that people who play a musical instrument regularly have higher executive function (EF) skills than non-musicians. EF skills are cognitive processes that include solving problems, setting goals, and thinking flexibly.

In a study published in 2014, Gaab and her research team had examined 30 adults between 18 and 35, and 27 children between 9 and 12. Half the adult participants and 15 of the children were regarded as ‘musical’ – the adults were either seeking or had obtained a performance degree and practiced at least eight hours a week, and the children had been taking private instrumental lessons for an average of 5.2 years – while the non-musicians had no musical training outside of the requirements of the general music curriculum in school.

The researchers examined the participants as they performed various tasks measuring EF skills. Overall, the musical participants performed better on several, although not all, of the executive function tests. Both adult and children musicians exhibited higher cognitive flexibility than non-musicians. The adult musicians showed a more proficient working memory, and the child musicians exhibited faster processing speed, than their non-musician peers.

SOURCES:

Plosone.org: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4061064/pdf/pone.0099868.pdf Harvard Graduate School of Education: http://www.gse.harvard.edu/news/uk/16/03/music-lessons

DETAILS:

BENEFIT: EXECUTIVE FUNCTIONING
TARGET GROUP: CHILDREN & ADULTS
AGE: 9-12 YEARS & 18-35 YEARS
MUSIC TYPE: GENERAL
TYPE OF STUDY: ACADEMIC RESEARCH
NOs INVOLVED: 57 (27 CHILDREN & 30 ADULTS)
PERIOD OF STUDY: UNKNOWN
DATE: 2014
PLACE: USA

Brain imaging shows enhanced executive brain function in people with musical training

Boston Children's Hospital brain image

This image shows functional MRI imaging during mental task switching: Panels A and B shows brain activation in musically trained and untrained children, respectively. Panel C shows brain areas that are more active in musically trained than musically untrained children. Credit: Laboratories of Cognitive Neuroscience, Boston Children’s Hospital

 

Another study has revealed a biological link between early music training and improved executive functioning in children and adults. The controlled study by researchers from the Laboratories of Cognitive Neuroscience at Boston Children’s Hospital used functional MRI brain imaging to show the connection. Executive functions are the high-level cognitive processes that enable people to quickly process and retain information, regulate their behaviours, make good choices, solve problems, plan and adjust to changing mental demands.

SOURCES:

Science Daily: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/06/140617211020.htm

PLOS One: http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0099868

DETAILS:

BENEFIT: COGNITIVE DEVELOPMENT, EXECUTIVE FUNCTIONING
TARGET GROUP: CHILDREN & ADULTS
AGE: 9-12 YEARS & 18-35 YEARS
MUSIC TYPE: GENERAL
TYPE OF STUDY: ACADEMIC RESEARCH
NOs INVOLVED: 57 (27 CHILDREN & 30 ADULTS)
PERIOD OF STUDY: Unknown
DATE: 2014
PLACE: USA