Whether it is to pump us up at the gym, or help us relax, we all use music for different reasons. But how far does our mind’s connection to music go? Can music make us smarter or even heal faster after surgery?
A common belief is that listening to Mozart will help you focus while studying. According to the Mozart Effect, listening to Requiem or Eine kleine Nachtmusik will improve your memory and increase your IQ. The question is; is this belief backed by research?
In 1993, a study published in Nature by Rauscher, Shaw and Ky stated that those who listened to Mozart showed a larger improvement in their spatial reasoning skills compared to those who listened to relaxation instructions or silence instead. Although the improvement was only observed for fifteen minutes after hearing the music and it was only noted for tests of spatial reasoning, popular culture quickly exaggerated the results. It isn’t extreme enough to link Mozart and an overall increase in IQ.
It has been suggested that playing music makes people smarter by other research, but proving a direct link between the two is not so simple. Socioeconomic status is a predictor of school grades. In addition, it is a predictor of being able to afford clarinet lessons. Or, maybe people who have the patience and aptitude for music are the same people who have the patience and aptitude for getting good grades. However, the correlation isn’t causation.
One study in 2011 tested the intelligence quotient of musician and non-musician children, between the ages 9-12. Also, they tested the children for indicators of executive brain function, which is their proficiency at high-level thinking. Some of these indicators could include their ability to multitask, make good decisions, inhibit bad behavior, and solve problems.
The author, E. Glenn Schellenberg, of the University of Toronto Mississauga, found that music and IQ were correlated, but the relationship between music and executive function was inconclusive. Schellenberg wrote, “These results provide no support for the hypothesis that the association between music training and IQ is mediated by executive function”. However, the neuroscientists behind the current research were not positive about that.
The team from Boston Children’s Hospital wanted to compensate for the shortcomings of other research. They removed two important variables: matching the 57 study participants in their control and test groups for equivalent IQ and socioeconomic background. The socioeconomic background is the education level of their parents and family income). Overall, they had two groups of children and two groups of adults that were similar in many ways; but, one group had significant musical training, and the other had very little.
The doctors administered a series of quizzes, like brain-teasers, while everyone was hooked up to an MRI. They discovered that musicians’ brains were more active than the non-musicians’ brains, and they performed better on cognitive tests.
Dr. Nadine Gaab said, “since executive functioning is a strong predictor of academic achievement, even more than IQ, we think our findings have strong educational implications”. In addition, “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.”
In addition, this study furthers the notion that musical training in children with learning disabilities and the elderly could improve their brain function. 16 adults in a senior home took piano lessons for six months in a different study. At the end, those 16 had better working memory and multitasking skills than 15 seniors who weren’t given piano lessons. Gaab said, “future studies have to determine whether music may be utilized as therapeutic intervention tools for these children and adults.”
However, this study doesn’t actually prove that the musical people weren’t predisposed to their talent. Their exceptionally quick thinking and problem solving might be the reason they’re so good at music. The team says its next study will be more like the senior home study, testing people over time to determine which came first, the music or the brains.
Picture from: http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/education/science/can-music-make-us-smarter-and-help-us-heal-faster