Tuesday, November 12, 2013

How the Adult Brain is Shaped by Musical Training in Childhood



This article was a study that investigated whether musical training during childhood leaves an enduring imprint on the adult brain. They tested 45 healthy adult participants between the ages of 18 and 31. The participants were placed in three groups based on their self-reported musical instruction; 0, 1-5 years, 6-11 years, and the male and female ratio was similar in all groups: 9/6, 9/6,  10/5 respectively. The groups also had similar IQ as measured using the Wechsler Abbreviated Scale of Intelligence, English Vocabulary and Matrix Reasoning.

The participant’s auditory brainstem responses (ABRs) were recorded to 8 triangle waves ranging in fundamental frequency: 262, 294, 330, 350, 370, 393, 416, 440 Hz. Each millisecond stimulus was presented binaurally 300 times in a pseudorandom interleaved design at 70 dB SPL via ER-3A insert earphones with an inter-stimulus interval of 38.43 millisecond. Participants sat in a reclining chair in a sound treated and electrically shielded booth. The ABRs were recorded using an analog to digital rate of 20kHz using a computer based hardware and software program. For each stimulus, the study obtained a signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) measurement calculated by obtaining a fast Fourier transform in MAYLAB 2011b.

After analysing the data, the study indicates that the musically untrained group had smaller brainstem responses (p<0.015), while the other musically trained groups had more robust brainstem response (p>0.2). However, the data illustrated that the musically trained groups had no difference. The average SNR of the brainstem response did not correlate with the amount of training, but it was inversely correlated with the amount of training. Although the study did not investigate the enduring behavioral benefits of childhood music training, we draw from prior work linking enhanced auditory brainstem encoding with heightened auditory perception, executive function and auditory=based communication skills to suggest that musical training during development may produce long-lasting positive effects on the adult brain.


The study shows that having any prior music training will alter the nervous system in ways that remain into adulthood. It also proves having music training during developmental stages in life may result in long-lasting positive effects on the adult brain.

This study is an excellent way to prove to schools that music programs are very important and can help with a positive development of the brain. Most of the participants in this study started music instruction at the age of 9, which is typically when teachers can introduce them to music at school. By offering music in schools, this will ensure that the majority of students will receive music instruction and improve their nervous system.

Even though the issue of surveying a very limited age range (18-31 year olds) was brought up in the survey, it is still considered recent as the participants received music instructions not too long ago. If similar data was displayed using those with older ages, then this can solidify the research data. If we can determine what type of music instruction was received by the participants, it will become easier for music teachers and the researchers to determine why musicians have a better development in the adult brain. The current data can help broaden our understanding of long-term neuroplasticity and have a positive impact of education policy makers and a positive development of auditory training programs.


Will Snodgrass said...

Hi Pam,

This is an interesting topic. As you indicate, this study has strong potential for music advocacy. It also seems to indicate to me that there should be continued emphasis on early childhood music education. I am reminded of Dr. Trehub's work on music in childhood which shows how small children perceive much more than we think they can. As you observe, I would be interested in seeing this study done with an older sample group. Since the frontal lobe is still developing up until the age of 25 (if I’m not mistaken), 18-31 seems like a narrow age range to consider “adult brains.”

Keep up the good work,


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