Learning to play an instrument as a kid can help you focus longer and remember better your entire life, according to a study.
Neuroscientists from Chile conducted tests on musically trained children and found that they had higher brain activity in regions related to hearing and attention.
Hence, they suggest that children learning instruments can enjoy enhanced reading skills, resilience, creativity, and quality of life thanks to the cognitive benefits.
Learning to play an instrument as a child – like the piano or the picture, for example – helps you focus longer and remember better for a lifetime, according to one study (picture in stock).
"Of course I would recommend parents to enroll their children for music lessons," said paper writer, violinist and neuroscientist Leonie Kausel of the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile.
"Parents should enroll their children not only because they expect it to help them improve their cognitive functions, but also because it is an activity that (…) gives them joy and the opportunity to learn a universal language."
In their study, Dr. Kausel and colleagues recorded the attention and work memories of 40 children between the ages of 10 and 13 years.
Twenty played an instrument, had taken at least two years of lessons, practiced at least two hours a week, and played regularly in an orchestra or ensemble.
The remaining children, who were recruited at public schools in the Chilean capital, Santiago, had no musical education beyond what they had learned in the regular curriculum and thus formed the control group.
The children took a series of audiovisual and memory tests to assess their attention and working memory. They watched as they were presented with an abstract visual image and a short melody at the same time.
For a period of four seconds, each child was asked to focus on one, both, or neither of the stimuli – and then two seconds later asked to retrieve both stimuli.
To determine attention-related activity, the team took MRI data from the “passive” studies – when children were passively observing the stimuli – and from the “active” studies, in which children paid attention to images and sounds.
The neuroscientists also measured response accuracy and response time.
They found that the reaction time between the musically trained children and the other children was similar, but the musicians were significantly better at the memory task.
"Our main finding is that there appear to be two different mechanisms underlying the better performance of musically trained children in attentional and memory tasks," said Dr. Cord.
"One that supports more cross-domain attention mechanisms and another that supports more domain-specific auditory coding mechanisms."
"Domain" refers to how senses such as heat, sound, or light are encoded by the brain.
To determine attention-related activity, the team took MRI data from the “passive” studies – when children were passively observing the stimuli – and from the “active” studies, in which children paid attention to images and sounds
In musically trained children, both domain-specific mechanisms, when only one sense is processed, and domain-general mechanisms, when several are calculated, appear to have an improved function.
In the "specific" mechanism, the front and middle fronts of the brain are more active and form part of the so-called "phonological loop".
This loop is a system of working memory that processes sounds and coordinates them with physical movement.
When it comes to "cross-domain" tasks, the brain activates a powerful network that encompasses several regions that control decision-making, are goal-oriented and challenge cognitive tasks.
Based on their results, the team suspected that music training increases functional activity in these two crucial brain networks.
"The next step in the project is to determine the causality of the mechanisms we have found to improve attention and working memory," said Dr. Cord.
The team is now planning to evaluate the musical training intervention in children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
The full results of the study were published in the journal Frontiers in Neuroscience.
MUSIC IS A UNIVERSAL LANGUAGE
A recent study found global connections between musical form and song, which means that a love ballad sounds the same regardless of its culture.
The Harvard-led study asked 750 internet users from 60 different countries to listen to 14-second excerpts from songs.
The songs crossed a variety of locations around the world and included titles from lesser known societies such as hunters and gatherers or ranchers.
Participants were then asked to answer six questions about how they perceived the songs, such as dancing or expressing love.
The songs in the study could also be linked to calming a baby, curing a disease, mourning the dead, or telling a story – however, researchers found only four types of songs existed.
After listening to more than 26,000 excerpts, the data revealed an accurate description of the intercultural function of the song.
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