Sunday, October 12, 2008

Smartie-Pants Musicians

Musicians Use Both Sides Of Their Brains More Frequently Than Average People. Vanderbilt University (2008, October 3). ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 12, 2008

Researchers at Vanderbilt University conducted two experiments with 20 classical music students from Vanderbilt Blair School of Music and 20 non-musicians from a Vanderbilt introductory psychology course, to determine whether musicians use divergent thinking, as well as use both the left and right sides of the frontal cortex more effectively than the average person.
In the first experiment, subjects were shown a variety of household objects and asked to make up new functions for the objects. The musicians suggested more novel uses for the household objects than did the non-musicians. The subjects were also given a word association test, to which the musicians gave more correct responses. The results of this experiment suggest that musicians do use divergent thinking more effectively.
In the second experiment, the two groups were again asked to identify new uses for everyday objects as well as to perform a basic control task while the activity in their pre-frontal lobes was monitored using near-infrared spectroscopy. The musician had greater activity in both sides of the frontal lobes, indicating a qualitative difference in how they think.
Researchers also found that, overall, the musicians had higher IQ scores than the non-musicians.

To address the last point first, I wonder if it's possible that it is not the intensive musical training that elevates a musician's IQ score? Perhaps people with higher IQs gravitate toward music as a profession? Just a thought ...

This study is, of course, intensely interesting for many of us who are trained musicians in that it confirms every delusion of grandeur we may already entertain.

Seriously though, as the study focused on instrumentalists because they read music (associated with the left-hemisphere / language area) and simultaneously interpret it (associated with right hemisphere) I wonder what a similar study would find if it focused on classical singers as compared to both non-musicians and instrumentalists? I wonder because not only is a classical singer reading and interpreting music, they are (in the case of an opera singer) also retrieving the music from memory, using a language other than their own (usually), remembering and moving to stage blocking while using props, watching a conductor for cues, listening for a prompter (if necessary), singing and reacting to all the other singers on the stage who are also doing all of these things at once. Is it possible that singers use even more thought/brain process than other musicians?

by Shannon Coates

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