Attention and working memory (WM) are basic components of executive functions, and can be improved through training. One activity that has been shown to improve executive functions is music training, but the brain networks that underlie these improvements are not well known.
The research of Dr. Leonie Kausel, violinist, post-doctoral researcher at the Center for Research in Social Complexity (CICS) at the Universidad del Desarrollo, and Ph.D. in Neuroscience from the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, Neural Dynamics of Improved Bimodal Attention and Working Memory in Musically Trained Children, identifies these networks in children who learn and regularly play a musical instrument identified by functional magnetic resonance (fMRI). Thus, new evidence was found to affirm that learning to play an instrument can be good for the brain: Musically trained children perform better in attention and working memory and have greater activation in the regions of the brain related to attention control and auditory coding, executive functions known to be associated with better reading, greater resilience, greater creativity, and improved quality of life.
The work was developed with 40 Chilean children between 10 and 13 years of age. Twenty of them played an instrument, had had at least two years of classes, practiced at least 2 hours per week and played regularly in an orchestra or ensemble. Twenty control children, recruited from public schools in Santiago, had had no musical training other than that established in the school program. Their attention and working memory was evaluated through the previously developed and validated “bimodal (auditory/visual) attention and working memory (WM) task”. During this task, Kausel along with researchers from the Development University’s Laboratory of Social Neuroscience and Neuromodulation (neuroCICS), recorded the children’s brain activity with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), detecting small changes in blood flow within the brain.
“The next step of the project is to establish the causality of the mechanisms we found to improve attention and working memory,” says Kausel. “We also intend to do a longitudinal study on music education with children, assessing attention and working memory, and the possibility of evaluating a music education intervention in children with ADHD.
Kausel L, Zamorano F, Billeke P, Sutherland ME, Larrain-Valenzuela J, Stecher X, Schlaug G and Aboitiz F (2020) Neural Dynamics of Improved Bimodal Attention and Working Memory in Musically Trained Children Front. Neurosci. 14:554731. doi: 10.3389/fnins.2020.554731
The research published in Frontiers in Neuroscience was selected by the journal to generate a worldwide press release because of the relevance of the study to the area of education (EurekAlert! press release here), and has been published in several international media:
UK, The Times
USA, United Press International (UPI)