19 August 2003
Music may be good for the soul, but scientists in Hong Kong have discovered that learning to play a musical instrument can help the brain as well. A study on children shows that young music students score higher in verbal memory tests.
A study by psychologists at the Chinese University of Hong Kong shows that children with musical training not only score higher on verbal memory tests, but also are able to remember more new vocabulary words.
Professor Agnes Chen, who headed the study, published the findings in latest edition of the quarterly science journal Neuropsychology. "Our study is really saying that music is good for you, but it's not just good for you - it's good in a systematic manner," she says. "If you learn music, then predictably, people are better in verbal memory."
She added that the benefits were very specific - for example tests on the children's visual memory showed significant differences between musicians and non-musicians.
The study was conducted on 90 school children with an average age of 10. Forty-five students were taking music lessons while the control group lacked formal training in music. To eliminate the possibility of other variables influencing the results, all the children used in the study were boys of similar intelligence, education and socio-economic backgrounds.
When asked why music learning may influence verbal memory, Professor Chen says those two tasks may use the same parts of the brain. "We know that the left temporal plane primarily mediates the verbal memory," she says. "And we can apply this theory to other kinds of training, we're kind of mapping the brain functions to people's life-style."
Professor Chen says she hopes to eventually compare brain activity while students are studying music and studying vocabulary.