Functional brain MRI's have revealed that there is a possible link between early musical training and effective cognitive function in both children and adults.
The study uses functional MRI of brain areas associated with executive function, adjusting for socioeconomic factors.
Executive functions are the high-level cognitive processes that enable people to quickly process and retain information, regulate their behaviors, make good choices, solve problems, plan and adjust to changing mental demands.
Study senior investigator Nadine Gaab, PhD, of the Laboratories of Cognitive Neuroscience at Boston Children's said since executive functioning is a strong predictor of academic achievement, even more than IQ, we think our findings have strong educational implications.
Gaab said 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.
Gaab and colleagues compared 15 musically trained children, 9 to 12, with a control group of 12 untrained children of the same age. Musically trained children had to have played an instrument for at least two years in regular private music lessons. (On average, the children had played for 5.2 years and practiced 3.7 hours per week, starting at the age of 5.9.)
The researchers similarly compared 15 adults who were active professional musicians with 15 non-musicians. Both control groups had no musical training beyond general school requirements.
On cognitive testing, adult musicians and musically trained children showed enhanced performance on several aspects of executive functioning. On fMRI, the children with musical training showed enhanced activation of specific areas of the prefrontal cortex during a test that made them switch between mental tasks.
These areas, the supplementary motor area, the pre-supplementary area and the right ventrolateral prefrontal cortex, are known to be linked to executive function.
The study has been published online in the journal PLOS ONE.