Professional musicians show superior long-term memory compared with non-musicians, a new study finds. Their brains are also capable of much faster neural responses in key areas of the brain related to decision-making, memory and attention. The results were presented at the Society for Neuroscience annual meeting in Washington, DC (Schaeffer et al., 2014).
The 14 professional musicians in the study — all of whom had been playing for 15 years — were given a series of pictures and words to
remember. Their results on a long-term memory test were compared with a group of 15 non-musicians. While they did the test, their neural responses were measured using electroencephalography (EEG) technology. The musicians had the advantage in long-term memory for the pictures, although not the verbal items. Measures of the musicians’ brain function also showed that their neural response was faster than non-musicians. Areas in the mid-frontal region — those associated with decision-making — were between one-third and half-a-second faster. In the parietal lobes — which are associated with the senses, memory and attention — their neural response were sometimes almost one second faster than non-musicians. It’s not yet known why these advantages in processing and memory
occur, but Dr. Park speculates that learning to navigate musical scores may be partly responsible. This study adds to a growing body of evidence showing that musical training has a wonderful positive effect on cognitive abilities.