Researchers at the Boston Children's Hospital worked with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and found early musical training enhances the areas of the brain responsible for executive functioning.
Also known as cognitive control or supervisory attentional system, "executive functioning" refers to brain management, not unlike the corresponding corporate term.
This is the top of the hierarchy in terms of brain organization, for executive functioning enables information processing and retention, regulates behavior, and is responsible for problem solving and planning, among other cognitive processes.
In the study, researchers considered a musically trained child to be one who had at least two years of private lessons under his or her belt.Better said, it's a key player to success in life.
They selected 15 of them, ages 9 to 12, and the group statistics amounted to significantly more training than researchers had originally sought out: the children had played for 5.2 years and practiced 3.7 hours per week, beginning at the age of 5.9.
Researchers compared them with a control group of 12 children in the same age range with no musical training.
Next, two similarly structured groups of adults were formed, although the musical group consisted solely of active professional musicians.
Cognitive tests showed musicians in both age groups had the upper hand.
MRIs showed children had an enhanced activity levels in the prefrontal cortex indicating they may be more apt at multi-tasking than their non-musical counterparts.
The numerous brain benefits of musical training are well-known and have been the centerpiece of many academic studies.
Just last year, the Society for Neuroscience presented three studies at an annual conference, all of which conclude that musical training influences not only certain functions but also the anatomy of the brain.
The Boston study, however, is one of few to explore executive functioning and adjust results for socioeconomic status, an important factor that past studies have not taken into proper consideration.
"Since executive functioning is a strong predictor of academic achievement, even more than IQ, we think our findings have strong educational implications," says study senior investigator Nadine Gaab, PhD, of the Laboratories of Cognitive Neuroscience at Boston Children's. "While many schools are cutting music programs and spending more and more time on test preparation, our findings suggest that musical training may actually help to set up children for a better academic future."
Gab says future studies could determine whether children and adults who are struggling with executive functioning -- such as kids with ADHD or the elderly -- could benefit from music as a therapeutic intervention tool.
Researchers remarked that enhanced executive functioning is the very aspect of the brain motivating kids to stick to their music lessons, suggesting that training should begin early in life.
The study was published June 17 in PLOS ONE.