Learning music or speaking another language leads to more efficient brains

May 17, 2018, Baycrest Centre for Geriatric Care
Dr. Claude Alain, first author of the paper and senior scientist at Baycrest's Rotman Research Institute. Credit: Provided by Baycrest Health Sciences

Whether you learn to play a musical instrument or speak another language, you're training your brain to be more efficient, suggests a Baycrest study.

Researchers found that musicians and people who are bilingual utilized fewer brain resources when completing a working memory task, according to recently published findings in the journal, Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences.

Individuals with either a musical or bilingual background activated different brain networks and showed less brain activity than people who only spoke one and didn't have formal music training to complete the task, according to the study's findings.

"These findings show that musicians and bilinguals require less effort to perform the same task, which could also protect them against cognitive decline and delay the onset of dementia," says Dr. Claude Alain, first author of the paper and senior scientist at Baycrest's Rotman Research Institute. "Our results also demonstrated that a person's experiences, whether it's learning how to play a or another language, can shape how the brain functions and which networks are used."

Musicians and people who are have long been shown to have a better working memory, the ability to keep things in mind, such as remembering a phone number, a list of instructions or doing mental math. But it remains a mystery as to why this is the case. This is the first brain imaging study looking at all three groups and this work uncovers how these activities boost different parts of the brain among individuals, adds Dr. Alain.

The study looked at the brains of 41 young adults between the ages of 19-35, who fit into three categories: English-speaking non-musicians, musicians who only spoke English and bilinguals who didn't play a musical instrument. Brain imagery was captured for each participant as they were asked to identify whether the sound they heard was the same type as the previous one. Sounds from musical instruments, the environment and humans were among those used in the study. Participants were also asked to identify if what they heard was coming from the same direction as the previous noise.

Musicians remembered the type of sound faster than individuals in the other groups, while bilinguals and musicians performed better on the location task. Bilinguals performed at about the same level as individuals who spoke only one language and didn't play a musical instrument on remembering the sound, but they still showed less when completing the task.

"People who speak two languages may take longer to process sounds since the information is run through two language libraries rather than just one," says Dr. Alain, who is also an associate professor at the University of Toronto's Institute of Medical Science and the Department of Psychology. "During this task, the brains of bilinguals showed greater signs of activation in areas that are known for speech comprehension, supporting this theory."

As next steps, researchers are exploring the impact of art and musical training among adults to see if this leads to changes in function.

Explore further: Learning a second language alters sensory perception, study finds

More information: Claude Alain et al, Different neural activities support auditory working memory in musicians and bilinguals, Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences (2018). DOI: 10.1111/nyas.13717

Related Stories

Learning a second language alters sensory perception, study finds

May 14, 2018
Learning a second language can change the way our senses work together to interpret speech, according to a new Northwestern University study.

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 ...

How musical training affects speech processing

December 5, 2017
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 ...

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.

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?

Language juggling rewires bilingual brain

February 13, 2016
Bilinguals use and learn language in ways that change their minds and brains, which has consequences—many positive, according to Judith F. Kroll, a Penn State cognitive scientist.

Recommended for you

Leg exercise is critical to brain and nervous system health

May 23, 2018
Groundbreaking research shows that neurological health depends as much on signals sent by the body's large, leg muscles to the brain as it does on directives from the brain to the muscles. Published today in Frontiers in ...

Mechanisms of harmful overhydration and brain swelling

May 22, 2018
We are all familiar with the drawbacks of dehydration, but we rarely hear about the harmful effects of overhydration. For one, excess fluid accumulation can lead to dangerously low sodium levels in the blood or hyponatremia—a ...

Mice brain structure linked with sex-based differences in anxiety behavior

May 22, 2018
Using male individuals has long been a tradition in scientific mice studies. But new research enforces the importance of using a balanced population of male and female mice.

In brain stimulation therapy less might be more

May 22, 2018
One of the promising non-invasive brain therapeutic methods is the repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS). During such a procedure, a magnetic coil is placed near the head of the patient and a magnetic pulse ...

Subtle hearing loss while young changes brain function, study finds

May 22, 2018
Cranking up your headphones or scrambling for a front-row spot at rock shows could be damaging more than your hearing.

What helps form long-term memory also drives the development of neurodegenerative disease

May 22, 2018
Scientists have just discovered that a small region of a cellular protein that helps long-term memories form also drives the neurodegeneration seen in Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). This small part of the Ataxin-2 protein ...

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.