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More Music Equals Better Brains

Aug. 11, 2014|714 views
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Many have mourned the loss of arts programs in schools. In districts across the country, arts education is often the first casualty in skirmishes over public education funding. Budget pressures often mean that music and art programs are jettisoned in the name of cost savings. But banishing children's access to early music education may be akin to throwing the baby out with the bathwater. That's because early music training is about more than providing a well-rounded education. It's also about more than providing grounding in culture.

Music training improves brain function.

Scientists have known for years that exposure to music education seems to result in sharper, more agile minds. A new study has shown that early musical training is linked to improved executive functioning among both children and adults. Executive functions are cognitive processes that allow us to process information quickly, make good decisions, retain new information, solve difficult problems, make beneficial choices, regulate our behaviors, and adapt to changing mental demands.

The latest research was performed using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), which enables scientists to view the brain working in real time. "Since executive functioning is a strong predictor of academic achievement, even more than IQ, we think our findings have strong educational implications," says study senior investigator Nadine Gaab, PhD, in a press release. "While many schools are cutting music programs and spending more and more time on test preparation, our findings suggest that musical training may actually help to set up children for a better academic future."

Investigators compared the brain function of 9-12 year olds. Some kids had engaged in an average of 5.2 years of musical training, including 3.7 hours of practice each week. Other kids of similar ages had never received any formal musical education. They also tested similar groups of adults; some were professional musicians, some were not.

On cognitive testing, and fMRI, adult musicians and musically trained children showed enhanced performance on several aspects of executive functioning. The findings suggest that music education is the last thing we should be tossing aside when it comes to tight education budgets.

Jennifer Zuk, Christopher Benjamin, Arnold Kenyon, Nadine Gaab. Behavioral and Neural Correlates of Executive Functioning in Musicians and Non-Musicians. PLoS ONE, 2014; 9 (6): e99868 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0099868

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