Familiar with the so-called "Mozart effect" study, which showed evidence of children having improved performance in a cognitive task after listening to Mozart? Later studies have confirmed that music can in fact enhance cognitive functioning, and that these effects are by no means restricted to Mozart, or even to classical music for that matter. But how early on in children’s lives we can start to see these benefits? Recently, a group of researchers arranged a music intervention for nine-months-olds to see whether music training might support language learning in babies. Read more about the fascinating findings of the study in this post.
How do shared music experiences influence social behavior? Could music be used as a method for increasing the quality of interaction, help individuals understand each other’s feelings and share a heightened sense of connectedness? In recent years, studies showing positive effects of music on social behavior have began accumulating.
Almost all individuals are equipped with the neural mechanisms needed to make, perceive and enjoy music. In some individuals, these mechanisms are enhanced or respond to training in such a way that exceptional musical skills emerge. At the other end of the spectrum there are individuals in whom the mechanisms function in a way that even normal processing of musical sounds is not possible. This later condition is called tone-deafness or amusia, typically affecting around 4 % of the population.
Developmental dyslexia is a learning disorder that causes difficulties in word recognition, reading, and spelling. It is fairly common, affecting up to 10 % of the population and often causes a great deal of distress, especially in academic settings. A recently published article reports encouraging results from a randomized controlled study showing that music training could be used to boost reading skills in children with dyslexia.
Dr Caroline Palmer is Professor in the Department of Psychology, Canada Research Chair and Director of the Sequence Production Lab at McGill University, Montreal. Her work focuses on the behavioral and neural foundations (learning, memory, motor control, attention) that make it possible for people to produce auditory sequences, such as playing a musical instrument or speaking. Some of the questions explored by her research are: how is it possible for people to synchronize actions within milliseconds of each other and predict event timings and patterns with little information (as they do in music) and what we can learn about the way these behaviors are modeled in music that may inform our understanding of other important biological systems.
In our interview during this year's Sync Session at McGill, we learned why she decided to study human behavior through music and how technology like the Sync Project "could be a gamechanger" for researchers by dramatically augmenting the scope, scale and environmentally valid settings for research.
Many caregivers think that music training is a good way to support cognitive development of their child. What does the science say on this? Can any kind of musical activity produce benefits and have an effect on the developing brain?
Studies have shown that already at birth, and even before it, children possess many skills needed to process music. Mere exposure to music influences the development of auditory processing and gradually makes us accustomed to the specific features of the music of the culture we live in. Read more about how memories of music in utero can be traced when children are born and how music affects other important aspects of early childhood development.
Musical preference changes with age. Mature listeners are often baffled by the musical choices of younger people - what is inspiring and uplifting to one is a terrible cacophony to another. Similarly, teenagers rarely “get” the tunes their parents find enjoyable. Music listening is a powerful way to support well-being, irrespective of age. We investigate recent research that suggests that younger and older people listen to music for different reasons and experience benefits to well-being through different mechanisms.