Music and Nonmusical Abilities

Department of Psychology, University of Toronto at Mississauga, Mississauga, Ontario, Canada L5L 1C6
Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences (Impact Factor: 4.38). 05/2001; 930:355 - 371. DOI: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.2001.tb05744.x


Reports that exposure to music causes benefits in nonmusical domains have received widespread attention in the mainstream media. Such reports have also influenced public policy. The so-called “Mozart effect” actually refers to two relatively distinct phenomena. One concerns short-term increases in spatial abilities that are said to occur from listening to music composed by Mozart. The other refers to the possibility that formal training in music yields nonmusical benefits. A review of the relevant findings indicates that the short-term effect is small and unreliable. Moreover, when it is evident, it can be explained by between-condition differences in the listener's mood or levels of cognitive arousal. By contrast, the effect of music lessons on nonmusical aspects of cognitive development is still an open question. Several studies have reported positive associations between formal music lessons and abilities in nonmusical (e.g., linguistic, mathematical, and spatial) domains. Nonetheless, compelling evidence for a causal link remains elusive.

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    • "Correlational studies have demonstrated positive associations between music lessons in school-aged children and cognitive abilities such as verbal memory, non-verbal reasoning, spatial–temporal reasoning, reading, spelling, speech recognition and mathematics (e.g. Anvari et al. 2002; Forgeard et al. 2008; Jentschke and Koelsch 2009; Moreno et al. 2009; Saffran 2003; Schellenberg 2001, 2004, 2006; Schlaug et al. 2005). More specifically, Schellenberg (2004, 2006) showed a positive association between duration of music lessons in school-aged children and Intelligence Quotient (IQ) scores, while controlling for socio-economic status and effects associated with participation in a non-musical activity. "
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    ABSTRACT: Behavioural and neuroimaging studies provide evidence for a possible "sensitive" period in childhood development during which musical training results in long-lasting changes in brain structure and auditory and motor performance. Previous work from our laboratory has shown that adult musicians who begin training before the age of 7 (early-trained; ET) perform better on a visuomotor task than those who begin after the age of 7 (late-trained; LT), even when matched on total years of musical training and experience. Two questions were raised regarding the findings from this experiment. First, would this group performance difference be observed using a more familiar, musically relevant task such as auditory rhythms? Second, would cognitive abilities mediate this difference in task performance? To address these questions, ET and LT musicians, matched on years of musical training, hours of current practice and experience, were tested on an auditory rhythm synchronization task. The task consisted of six woodblock rhythms of varying levels of metrical complexity. In addition, participants were tested on cognitive subtests measuring vocabulary, working memory and pattern recognition. The two groups of musicians differed in their performance of the rhythm task, such that the ET musicians were better at reproducing the temporal structure of the rhythms. There were no group differences on the cognitive measures. Interestingly, across both groups, individual task performance correlated with auditory working memory abilities and years of formal training. These results support the idea of a sensitive period during the early years of childhood for developing sensorimotor synchronization abilities via musical training.
    Experimental Brain Research 07/2010; 204(1):91-101. DOI:10.1007/s00221-010-2299-y · 2.04 Impact Factor
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    • "The relation between this ability and music has received a good deal of attention, stemming primarily from the widely publicized " Mozart Effect " in which music listening is proposed to lead to a short-term improvement in spatial-temporal performance (Rauscher et al. 1993). Although this effect has been shown to be short-lived, somewhat unreliable, and primarily accounted for by arousal (see Schellenberg 2001, 2005 for reviews), stronger evidence exists for an improvement in spatial–temporal ability following musical training. Hetland (2000) conducted a meta-analysis of 15 studies examining the effects of musical training on spatial–temporal abilities in 3-to 12-year-olds, and another meta-analysis of eight studies on the effects of music instruction on a wider range of spatial abilities. "
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    ABSTRACT: Rather little is known about how children acquire musical knowledge. However, everyday exposure to the music of one’s culture does lead to implicit knowledge about its pitch and rhythmic structure, just as exposure to a particular language leads to implicit knowledge about its structure. While all children attend school with the goal of becoming literate, some children engage in formal music training whereas others do not. Thus music offers the opportunity to compare the effects of a wide range of experiences (Trehub and Trainor 1998).
    Springer Handbook of Auditory Research: Music Perception, Edited by Mari Riess Jones, Richard R. Fay, Arthur N. Popper, 01/2010: pages 89-127; Springer.
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    • "However, these results did not demonstrate unequivocally that music training is the only factor responsible for improving the level of performance in verbal memory. The socio-cultural development of students with and without music training, for example, was not controlled for in this study, and the number of years of education was not equivalent in both groups (Schellenberg, 2001). Even if these studies have methodological issues, it seems reasonable to think that they open the door to a very interesting path in research—namely, the memory link between music and language or global shared processing between music and language. "
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    ABSTRACT: Evidence has suggested that music can improve behavioural performance in several domains, including intelligence. Scientists have also discovered that music can modify the brain at both functional and structural levels. Such neural changes can impact several domains, but one domain seems to be particularly influenced by music—namely, language. Music and language seem to share special features that allow music to improve and shape language processing. This review will first discuss neuroimaging findings related to music training or musical expertise. Then, the influence of music on language processing outcomes will be considered. Finally, we will look into several future directions at the theoretical level, focusing on the relationship between music and language. Also, it will be argued that there are plausible applications for such findings, in particular when considering music as a rehabilitation tool. Music and Language: A Review of Recent Neuroscience Research and Applied Future Directions The possibility of an influence of music on cognition is a relatively new notion in psychology and neuroscience. Researchers have explored this link and discovered that musical expertise (e.g., studies with musicians versus non-musicians) or musical training (e.g., studies with non-musicians who learn music) can improve behavioural performance and modify brain substrates, not only in the musical domain but also in other domains. This new understanding of the relationship between music and cognition is helping scientists understand the effects of environmental influences on human cognition more broadly. By studying the effect of music on human cognition, scientists have begun to learn about the power of music. The general public has also become interested: 'Music makes you smarter' or 'Music helps you to learn other languages'—these are examples of common thoughts pertaining to questions about the influence of music.
    Contemporary Music Review 06/2009; 28(3):329-345. DOI:10.1080/07494460903404410
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