Music and intelligence: Will listening to music make you smarter?

Will listening to music make you smarter? Will learning to play a musical instrument make your brain grow larger than normal?

Questions like these have been popping up everywhere in recent years, and not just in scientific journals.

In recent times, the media has become fascinated with research surrounding brain development and music, enthusiastically reporting the latest studies to the delight of music-loving parents with young children.

But all of this information, and some misinformation as well, has led to widespread confusion about the role of music and musical training in human brain development. The bottom line is this: If you’re confused by everything you’re reading about the study of music and brain development, you’re certainly not alone.

In part, this is due to the way the phrase “the Mozart effect” has been popularized by the media and used to describe any situation in which music has a positive effect on cognition or behavior.

In fact, the Mozart Effect refers specifically to a 1993 research finding by Frances Rauscher, Gordon Shaw, and Katherine Ky and published in the prestigious journal Nature. The scientists found that 36 college students who listened to 10 minutes of a Mozart sonata performed better on a subsequent spatio-temporal task than after listening to relaxation or silence instructions.

A haunted outlet reported this interesting research as “Mozart makes you smarter,” a huge oversimplification of the original results.

As Rauscher explains in a later article, the Mozart effect was studied only in adults, lasted only a few minutes, and was found only by temporal-spatial reasoning. However, the finding has since launched an industry that includes books, CDs and websites that claim that listening to classical music can make children smarter.

The scientific controversy – not to mention the popular confusion – around the Mozart Effect has caused a corresponding perplexity in parents. They wonder, “Should my kids even bother with music education?”

In fact, the answer to this question remains a resounding yes, as numerous research studies show that the study of music unequivocally contributes to the positive development of the human brain. Since then, other researchers have replicated the original 1993 finding that listening to Mozart improves spatial reasoning. And further research by Rauscher and colleagues in 1994 showed that after eight months of keyboarding lessons, preschoolers demonstrated a 46% increase in their spatial reasoning IQ, an important skill for certain types of reasoning. mathematical.

In particular, it is early musical training that seems to further strengthen the connections between brain neurons and perhaps even leads to the establishment of new pathways. But research shows that music training has more than a casual relationship with the long-term development of specific parts of the brain, too.

In 1994, Discover magazine published an article that analyzed the research of Gottfried Schlaug, Herman Steinmetz, and their colleagues at the University of Dusseldorf. The group compared magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the brains of 27 classically trained right-handed pianists or string players with those of 27 right-handed men who were not musicians.

Interestingly, they found that the musicians’ planum temporale, a brain structure associated with auditory processing, was larger in the left hemisphere and smaller in the right than in non-musicians. Musicians also had a thicker nerve fiber tract between the hemispheres. The differences were especially striking among musicians who began training before the age of seven.

According to Shlaug, the study of music also promotes the growth of the corpus callosum, a kind of bridge between the two hemispheres of the brain. He found that among musicians who began their training before the age of seven, the corpus callosum is 10-15% thicker than in non-musicians.

At the time, Schlaug and other researchers speculated that a larger corpus callosum might improve motor control by speeding up communication between the hemispheres.

Since then, a study by Dartmouth music psychologist Petr Janata, published in Science in 2002, has confirmed that music causes greater connectivity between the left and right hemispheres of the brain and between areas responsible for emotion and memory. , than almost any other stimulus.

Janata led a team of scientists that reported that some brain areas are 5% larger in skilled musicians than in people with little or no musical training, and that the auditory cortex in professional musicians is 130% denser than in non-musicians. In fact, among musicians who began their musical studies in early childhood, the corpus callosum, a four-inch bundle of nerve fibers that connects the left and right sides of the brain, can be up to 15% larger.

While it is now clear from research studies that brain region connectivity and some types of spatial reasoning functionality are improved by musical training, there is growing evidence that detailed and skillful motor movements are also improved.

It appears that the corpus callosum of musicians is essential for tasks such as finger coordination. Like a weightlifter’s biceps, this part of the brain enlarges to accommodate the increased work assigned to it.

In a study conducted by Dr. Timo Krings and published in Neuroscience Letters in 2000, pianists and non-musicians of the same age and gender were asked to perform complex sequences of finger movements. The non-musicians were able to do the movements just as correctly as the pianists, but less activity was detected in the brains of the pianists. The scientists concluded that compared to non-musicians, pianists’ brains are more efficient at performing skillful movements.

The study of music definitely affects the human brain and its development, in a staggering number of ways. But what to do with all the research, especially in terms of deciding the best course of music study or appreciation for you or your offspring?

A 2000 article by NM Weinberger in MuSICA Research Notes makes the following excellent point: Although the Mozart Effect may not live up to the unwarranted hopes of the public, it has sparked widespread interest in musical research from the public. And listening to ten minutes of Mozart could make someone interested in listening to more unknown music, opening new perspectives.

Regardless of the hype surrounding the Mozart Effect, the overall academic evidence for the study of music as a tool to aid brain development is compelling.

At the University of California San Francisco School of Medicine, Dr. Frank Wilson says his research shows that instrumental practice improves coordination, concentration, and memory, and also improves vision and hearing. His studies have shown that participation in music connects and develops the motor systems of the brain, refining the entire neurological system in ways that no other activity can achieve. Dr. Wilson goes so far as to say that he believes that music instruction is actually ‘necessary’ for total brain development.

So the bottom line is this: the study and practice of music probably aids in brain development in several important ways. And after all, if you love music, there’s nothing to lose by trying it, and everything to gain!

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