Play an instrument? You probably react faster, too

January 10, 2017
Credit: THINKSTOCK

Could learning to play a musical instrument help the elderly react faster and stay alert?

Quite likely, according to a new study by Université de Montréal's School of Speech Language Pathology and Audiology, part of UdeM's medical faculty.

Published in the U.S. journal Brain and Cognition, the study shows that musicians have faster reaction times to sensory stimuli than non-musicians have.

And that has implications for preventing some effects of aging, said lead researcher Simon Landry, whose study is part of his doctoral thesis in biomedical science.

"The more we know about the impact of music on really basic sensory processes, the more we can apply musical training to individuals who might have slower reaction times," Landry said.

"As people get older, for example, we know their reaction times get slower. So if we know that playing a musical instrument increases reaction times, then maybe playing an instrument will be helpful for them."

In his study, co-authored with his thesis advisor, audiology associate professor François Champoux, Landry compared the reaction times of 16 musicians and 19 non-musicians.

They were sat in a quiet, well-lit room with one hand on a computer mouse and the index finger of the other on a vibro-tactile device, a small box that vibrated intermittently.

They were told to click on the mouse when they heard a sound (a burst of white noise) from the speakers in front of them, or when the box vibrated, or when both happened.

Each of the three stimulations - audio, tactile and audio-tactile - was done 180 times. The subjects wore earplugs to mask any buzzing "audio clue" when the box vibrated.

"We found significantly faster reaction times with musicians for auditory, tactile and audio-tactile stimulations," Landry writes in his study.

"These results suggest for the first time that long-term musical training reduces simple non-musical auditory, tactile and multisensory ."

The musicians were recruited from UdeM's music faculty, started playing between ages 3 and 10, and had at least seven years of training.

There were eight pianists, 3 violinists, two percussionists, one double bassist, one harpist and one viola player. All but one (a violinist) also mastered a second instrument, or more.

The non-musicians were students at the School of Speech Language Pathology. As with the musicians, roughly half were undergraduates and half graduates.

Landry, whose research interest is in how sound and touch interact, said his study adds to previous ones that looked at how musicians' brains process sensory illusions.

"The idea is to better understand how playing a affects the senses in a way that is not related to music," he said of his study.

Explore further: How do musician's brains work while playing?

More information: Simon P. Landry et al, Musicians react faster and are better multisensory integrators, Brain and Cognition (2017). DOI: 10.1016/j.bandc.2016.12.001

Related Stories

How do musician's brains work while playing?

November 30, 2016
When musicians play instruments, their brains are processing a huge amount and variety of information in parallel. Musical styles and strengths vary dramatically: Some musicians are better at sight reading music, while others ...

Research team finds neurological notes that help identify how we process music

October 26, 2015
New York University researchers have identified how brain rhythms are used to process music, a finding that also shows how our perception of notes and melodies can be used as a method to better understand the auditory system.

Musical training increases blood flow in the brain

May 7, 2014
Research by the University of Liverpool has found that brief musical training can increase the blood flow in the left hemisphere of our brain. This suggests that the areas responsible for music and language share common brain ...

Just a few years of early musical training benefits the brain later in life

November 5, 2013
Older adults who took music lessons as children but haven't actively played an instrument in decades have a faster brain response to a speech sound than individuals who never played an instrument, according to a study appearing ...

Early music lessons boost brain development, researchers find

February 12, 2013
If you started piano lessons in grade one, or played the recorder in kindergarten, thank your parents and teachers. Those lessons you dreaded – or loved – helped develop your brain. The younger you started music lessons, ...

Recommended for you

Presurgical imaging may predict whether epilepsy surgery will work

December 11, 2017
Surgery to remove a part of the brain to give relief to patients with epilepsy doesn't always result in complete seizure relief, but statisticians at Rice University have developed a method for integrating neuroimaging scans ...

Selecting sounds: How the brain knows what to listen to

December 11, 2017
How is it that we are able—without any noticeable effort—to listen to a friend talk in a crowded café or follow the melody of a violin within an orchestra?

Updated brain cell map connects various brain diseases to specific cell types

December 11, 2017
Researchers have developed new single-cell sequencing methods that could be used to map the cell origins of various brain disorders, including Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

Scientists discover new way to help nerve regeneration in spinal cord injury

December 11, 2017
There is currently no cure for spinal cord injury or treatment to help nerve regeneration so therapies offering intervention are limited. People with severe spinal cord injuries can remain paralysed for life and this is often ...

How a seahorse-shaped brain structure may help us recognize others

December 8, 2017
How do we recognize others? How do we know friend from foe, threat from reward? How does the brain compute the multitude of cues telling us that Susan is not Erica even though they look alike? The complexity of social interactions—human ...

Brain networks that help babies learn to walk ID'd

December 8, 2017
Scientists have identified brain networks involved in a baby's learning to walk—a discovery that eventually may help predict whether infants are at risk for autism.

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

FredJose
not rated yet Jan 11, 2017
So if we know that playing a musical instrument increases reaction times,

Surely that should be "decreases reaction times" or "increases reaction speed"?

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.