Study: playing an instrument could rewire brain to improve working memory

Posted on: May 23, 2018

“Solving problems requires holding many pieces of information in our minds simultaneously,” writes Tom Jacobs in Thursday’s (5/17) Pacific Standard (Santa Barbara, CA). “That all-important ability is called ‘working memory,’ and it takes considerable mental effort. That is, unless you play a musical instrument, or speak a second language. New research suggests that, over time, engaging in those challenging activities effectively rewires the brain, allowing it to complete complex assignments with greater ease. A 2017 meta-study … published in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, featured 41 Canadians … divided into three groups: Musicians who only spoke English; non-musicians who only spoke English; and English speakers who were fluent in a second language but did not play a musical instrument…. While their brain activity was scanned, participants listened to and categorized a series of sounds…. The researchers found musicians outperformed both bilinguals and monolingual non-musicians in terms of categorizing sounds…. Both the musicians and bilinguals ‘showed distinct task-specific patterns of activation’ in … a part of the brain associated with processing, learning, and memory [suggesting] ‘musical training and bilingualism might be protective factors against age-related executive function decline.’ ”

Posted May 23, 2018