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Study Finds Enhanced Executive Brain Function in People With Musical Training

Update Date: Jun 18, 2014 01:48 AM EDT

A new study has revealed a possible biological link between early musical training and improved executive functioning in both children and adults. They study used a functional MRI of brain areas associated with executive function while adjusting for socioeconomic factors. 

Executive functions are those high-level cognitive processes that enable people to quickly process and retain information. These also regulate their behaviors, allowing them to make good choices, solve problems and plan according to the mental demands. 

"Since executive functioning is a strong predictor of academic achievement, even more than IQ, we think our findings have strong educational implications," said study senior investigator Nadine Gaab, PhD, of the Laboratories of Cognitive Neuroscience at Boston Children's, in the 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."

Researchers considered 15 musically trained children, 9 to 12 and 15 untrained children of the same age group. Similarly they compared 15 adults who were active professional musicians with 15 non-musicians. 

Researchers after cognitive testing observed that adults 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 press release added. 

"Our results may also have implications for children and adults who are struggling with executive functioning, such as children with ADHD or [the] elderly," added Gaab. "Future studies have to determine whether music may be utilized as a therapeutic intervention tools for these children and adults."

The study appears in the journal PLOS ONE. 

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