Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Training-induced Neuroplasticity in Young Children

Source: The Music and Neuroimaging Lab: “Training-induced Neuroplasticity in Young Children”
Retrieved from:

Summary: Learning to play a musical instrument involves complex cognitive and bimanual motor skill acquisition, as well as sensory stimulation and this experience provides an ideal activity with which to investigate changes in the brain as a function of learning.
It is known that in music making, we engage simultaneously both hemispheres of the brain. Professional musicians who began their music training before the age of 7 exhibit a larger anterior corpus callosum (CC) than non-musicians, which suggests that plasticity due to music training may occur in the CC during early childhood. It is unknown, though, whether this enlarged CC area in musicians is due to training or if it is a pre-existing difference.
This article outlines a study that was conducted over a period of 29 months, involving 31 children, age 5-7, testing the hypothesis that “instrumental music training would cause an increase in the size of particular subareas of the CC known to have fibres that connect motor-related areas of both hemispheres.” The 31 children were divided in 3 groups based on their total weekly practice time: high-practicing, low-practicing, and controls. 18 children attended weekly half-hour lessons (11 learned piano, 7 learned string instruments), while the remaining 13 children served as a non-instrumental control – received no musical training.
Through the use of high-resolution T1-weighted MR, brain scans were taken both at the start of the study and at its conclusion. Total CC size, as well as subareas were measured.
Beside weekly lesson and practicing, children also completed a 4-finger fine motor-skill sequencing task at both time points.
The results of the study show that difference in the anterior midbody of the CC emerged after 29 months of music training in the high-practicing group; their motor-sequencing task results also improved. Low-practice and controls did not differ in the extent of change. This proves the hypothesis that intense musical experience/practice, not pre-existing differences, is the reason for large anterior CC area found in professional musicians.

Response: Undoubtedly the most important function of corpus callosum is to facilitate the process of inter-hemispheric communication. While the right hemisphere is responsible for creativity and intuition, the left side is responsible for analytical and rational thinking; without the corpus callosum to connect them, there would be no communication between the two hemispheres. It is interesting, but not uncharacteristic, I think, that playing a musical instrument would develop this part of the brain. A musician taps both into his creative and intuitional side, as well as analytical and rational thinking, when practicing or performing, inevitably emphasising the bond between the two hemispheres of the brain. I have always been amazed at the brain’s capability to shape itself at an early age and thus the importance of early childhood exposure to as many different disciplines as to optimize the development of the brain. When an area of the brain is not used, it eventually becomes unresponsive.

1 comment:

Lucas Marchand said...

Given what we now know about brain plasticity I wonder if the size of the corpus callosum can be increased by learning music later in life as well. I saw a program about brain plasticity on TVO (I can't remember the name) a couple of years ago that looked at studies involving dementia, and brain plasticity in elderly people. There seemed to be a strong correlation between developing dementia and having a small corpus callosum. The program also featured a 110 year old Man who attributed his long life to continuously challenging his brain with new activities. At the time of the filming he was in the middle of teaching himself a new language! He seemed very sharp in the interviews and scans of his brain showed that his corpus callosum was extremely large for his age. Perhaps taking up a musical instrument later in life could help with mental health in the elderly as well.