How musical training affects speech processing

December 5, 2017, Chinese Academy of Sciences
(A-I) Brain regions showing significant classification of phoneme-elicited neural responses at each SNR in musicians (left panels) and non-musicians (right panels). (J) Speech-relevant anatomical regions used in multivoxel pattern analysis. Credit: DU Yi

Musical training is associated with various cognitive improvements and pervasive plasticity in human brains. Among its merits, musical training is thought to enhance the cognitive and neurobiological foundation of speech processing, particularly in challenging listening environments such as noisy restaurants. However, the brain mechanisms supporting any such potential advantages related to speech perception are not well specified.

A brain imaging study by Dr. DU Yi from the Institute of Psychology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and her collaborator Dr. Zatorre Robert from the Montréal Neurological Institute and McGill University has revealed that might improve speech perception in noisy environments via enhanced neural foundation in bottom-up auditory encoding, top-down speech motor prediction, and cross-modal auditory-motor integration.

This study, titled "Musical training sharpens and bonds ears and tongue to hear speech better," has just been published online in PNAS.

The study analyzed activity measured by functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) of 15 musicians and 15 non-musicians, all on average 21 to 22 years of age, as they identified speech syllables against changing levels of background noise.

The musicians had started their musical education before age seven and accumulated at least 10 years of musical training. They had practiced consistently (?3 times per week) over the past three years. The two groups showed no difference in their hearing level, education, auditory working memory or non-verbal IQ.

Musical training strengthens cross-modal auditory-motor integration during speech in noise perception. Credit: PNAS

While the two groups performed equally under a no-noise condition, the musicians outperformed non-musicians at all other signal-to-noise ratios (SNRs). This ability was associated with enhanced activation of the left inferior frontal and right auditory regions in the musicians' brains.

Additional analysis revealed that neural patterns related to phonemes, which compose syllables, were more distinct in the bilateral auditory regions and speech production-related frontal motor regions of the musicians' brains, as compared with non-musicians.

Moreover, musical training strengthened the functional connectivity of the auditory-motor network, which scaled with better behavioral performance.

The finding that musical training sharpens and bonds ears (the auditory system) and lips/tongue (the speech motor system) so that individuals can hear speech better is important.

It not only deepens our understandings of the neural mechanisms underlying musical training-related plasticity in processing speech, but also suggests great potential for musical programs in alleviating perception difficulties commonly observed in aging populations and related to hearing disorders.

Explore further: Mu­sic and nat­ive lan­guage in­ter­act in the brain

More information: Yi Du et al, Musical training sharpens and bonds ears and tongue to hear speech better, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2017). DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1712223114

Related Stories

Mu­sic and nat­ive lan­guage in­ter­act in the brain

November 30, 2017
Finnish speakers showed an advantage in auditory duration processing compared to German speakers in a recent doctoral study on auditory processing of sound in people with different linguistic and musical backgrounds. In Finnish ...

More evidence that musical training protects the brain

February 2, 2015
Scientists have found some of the strongest evidence yet that musical training in younger years can prevent the decay in speech listening skills in later life.

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.

Music training has biological impact on aging process

January 30, 2012
Age-related delays in neural timing are not inevitable and can be avoided or offset with musical training, according to a new study from Northwestern University. The study is the first to provide biological evidence that ...

Play an instrument? You probably react faster, too

January 10, 2017
Could learning to play a musical instrument help the elderly react faster and stay alert?

Musical experience offsets some aging effects

May 11, 2011
(Medical Xpress) -- A growing body of research finds musical training gives students learning advantages in the classroom. Now a Northwestern University study finds musical training can benefit Grandma, too, by offsetting ...

Recommended for you

Observing brain plasticity during cello training

June 15, 2018
Music acquisition provides an excellent model of neural plasticity, and has become a hot research subject in neurology. Music performance provides an unmatched array of neural complexities revealing how neural networks are ...

New discovery about the brain's water system may prove beneficial in stroke

June 15, 2018
Water is transported from the blood into the brain via an ion transporter, according to a new study on mice conducted at the University of Copenhagen. If the mechanism can be targeted with medicine, it may prove relevant ...

When emotional memories intrude, focusing on context could help, study finds

June 14, 2018
When negative memories intrude, focusing on the contextual details of the incident rather than the emotional fallout could help minimize cognitive disruption and redirect the brain's resources to the task at hand, suggests ...

The neurons that rewrite traumatic memories

June 14, 2018
Memories of traumatic experiences can lead to mental health issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which can destroy a person's life. It is currently estimated that almost a third of all people will suffer ...

Researchers find transport molecule has unexpected role

June 14, 2018
UT Southwestern researchers recently reported a basic science finding that might someday lead to better treatments for neurodegenerative diseases like a hereditary form of Lou Gehrig's disease.

Neuroscientists locate neurons in the brain that respond when a visual target is found

June 14, 2018
From looking for Waldo to finding your cellphone on a cluttered kitchen table, we are continuously engaged in visual searches. How does the brain do this? How do we know where to look? How do we know when we've found what ...

0 comments

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.