Thursday, December 18, 2008

Music Training improves verbal but not spatial abilities

Ho, Yim-Chi, and Mei-Chun Cheung, and Agnes S. Chan. Musical Training Improves Verbal but Not Visual Memory: Cross-Sectional and Longitudinal Explorations in Children. Neuropsychology, Vol. 17, No. 3 439-450. 2003
Posted by Devon Fornelli

Results from this study suggest that music training systematically affects memory processing in accordance with possible neuroanatomical modifications in the left temporal lobe.
Previous studies demonstrated that people who studied music tended to have enlarged planum temporal compared to those who haven’t. This study observed that those who studied music for 6 or more years did better on verbal tests than those who haven’t. It is also stated that cognitive function is shaped by early experiences. Authors of this study wanted to establish a relationship between the duration of music training and the improvement of memory.
The researchers employed cross-sectional study and longitudinal study.
Method: 90 male right-handed participants from ages 6-15 (M=10.66, SD = 2.39). 45 had musical training in band and orchestra programs on western instruments and studied privately for between 1-5 years. The other participants had no musical training. The subjects went through a test process to recall a word list presented orally and were asked to recall as many words as possible after 10 minutes and 30 minutes. The subjects were also given a spatial memory test that tested retention at 10 minutes and 30 minutes as in the oral test.
The results were that the subjects with music training were able to recall 20% more words than the group that did not have music training.
When subjects went through the testing on visuo-spatial abilities, there was no difference between the two groups.
In the longitudinal study, subjects were contacted after one year. Researchers compared those who stayed in the band program and those who dropped out after 3 months. They also looked at students from the “no music training” group who had started music training after one year. These students demonstrated improvement in their verbal memory ability. The findings support the hypothesis that musical training might improve verbal memory.
This paper also mentions how other research has identified the differences in those who have studied music in their abilities at certain tasks and the observation that certain brain structures are enlarged in subjects who have musical training, and how experiences may shape brain structure (plasticity) and cognitive ability.

The results of this study echo some of the other research we have discussed in the course relating to how experiences shape our cognitive abilities and our brain structure. I imagine that certain points raised in this article may have been disproven. Nevertheless, the researchers were very diligent about eliminating the effect external influences may have had on their data.
From this research, it is possible to gain insight into other studies relating to how training in music influences brain structure and nonmusical skills. The authors highlighting how the number of years of musical training related to cognitive function and how these skills were not lost over time tied in with the reference to the study of how musicians’ brains differ in structure to those of non-musicians. It seems as if musical study opens up certain channels in the brain/mind which remain open for other skills and become strengthened as there is more musical study. (it was mentioned that brain structures and cognitive abilities do not continue to expand infinitely depending on time of study, and there is a leveling off - in terms of cognitive advantage - at a certain level of study)

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