Boston College researchers will use MRI and fMRI imaging to assess the effects of music training on cognition and investigate whether skills acquired in music training transfer to other cognitive functions, such as mathematical and verbal performances.
Dr. Winner and colleagues have been studying children aged five to seven for the previous two and a half years. One group received music training, while a comparable group, based on verbal IQ scores, did not, enabling the researchers to determine the cognitive effects of music training. Among children receiving music training, some had been taught to the piano or violin “by ear,” (the Suzuki method), while the others had been taught to play the piano or violin by reading music notation. Prior to music training, all children received fMRI scans. They also were tested and showed no differences in, visual-spatial, mathematical, verbal, dexterity, or music perception skills. After one year, children receiving music training have shown greater growth in manual dexterity and music perception skills.
Now, with Dana funding, the investigators will continue to follow the music training and control groups for two more years to determine the effect of intensity of music training on brain and cognitive skills. They hypothesize that a high level of music notation training predicts a high degree of transfer of skills from music to visual-spatial, mathematical, and verbal tasks. To test this hypothesis, the investigators will identify the children who show the most talent and test their cognitive skills. These children will undergo another fMRI scan, which will be compared to their pre-training scans, to see if these children showed any atypical brain structures prior to training or show any following training.
Significance: This research is one of the first rigorously controlled studies examining whether music training is directly associated with brain plasticity and the transfer of learning to other cognitive functions.