By Lisa Rapaport
Oct 16 () - (Reuters Health) - Children who regularly practice a musical instrument may have better attention and working memory than kids who don't, data from functional MRI studies suggest.
Researchers examined data on 20 children who had at least two years of music lessons with practice at least twice weekly and regular participation in an orchestra or ensemble, and on 20 children with no musical training. Participants completed assessments of bimodal attention and working memory while undergoing functional MRIs.
While there wasn't a significant difference between groups in reaction time, the musically trained children did significantly better on the working memory task.
"I think they have better bimodal attention and working memory because playing an instrument is a very demanding task that requires you to focus your attention on multiple things simultaneously," said lead author Leonie Kausel of Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile and Universidad del Desarrollo in Santiago,Chile.
"You have to pay attention to multiple sensory modalities -- for example, look at your fingers or at the music score, listen to what you are playing and adapt to what you hear -- and also to motor movements, and do this constantly and all at the same time," Kausel said by email.
In addition, when musicians play in a group, they need to pay attention to the other players and to the conductor, Kausel added.
"Since attention and working memory share certain neural correlates, a better functioning of attention can also impact working memory," Kausel said.
For the bimodal attention and working memory tasks, researchers asked participants to focus on either one, both, or neither stimuli of a pair: a visual abstract figure and a short melody, presented simultaneously for 4 seconds. Then, 2 seconds later, researchers asked participants to recall both by means of a yes/no recognition task; they also measured accuracy of responses and reaction time.
Based on the imaging results, researchers also determined that musical experience may facilitate encoding of auditory stimuli by relying on the left inferior frontal gyrus and the left supramarginal gyrus.
The researchers were unable to determine whether participants had any differences in attention or working memory prior to musical training, the study team notes in Frontiers in Neuroscience.
"We know that any action carried out in a conscious and sustained way over time -- e.g. music -- will induce cognitive and cerebral changes," said Paulo Barraza of the Neuroscience, Cognition and Education Lab (NCE) at the University of Chile.
"However, what behavioral changes does it induce, what brain regions change, how this brain changes occur, how much practice time is required, what negative effects arise and when the organism is most sensitive to a specific practice such music, they are some questions without clear answers yet," Barraza, who wasn't involved in the study, said by email. "Thus, we need a rigorous experimental research program before to think in set up therapeutic programs based on musical practice."
SOURCE: https://bit.ly/2T0TrPH Frontiers in Neuroscience, online October 8, 2020.