The effects of music training in relation to brain plasticity have caused excitement, evident from the popularity of books on this topic among scientists and the general public. Neuroscience research has shown that music training leads to changes throughout the auditory system that prime musicians for listening challenges beyond music processing. This effect of music training suggests that, akin to physical exercise and its impact on body fitness, music is a resource that tones the brain for auditory fitness. Therefore, the role of music in shaping individual development deserves consideration.
These are the basic findings in a study by Nina Kraus and Bharath Chandrasekaran at the Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory and the Roxelyn and Richard Pepper Department of Communication Sciences, Northwestern University.
"A musician's brain selectively enhances information-bearing elements in sound. In a beautiful interrelationship between sensory and cognitive processes, the nervous system makes associations between complex sounds and what they mean," Nina Kraus, lead author of the Nature paper explained in a statement to the media. "The efficient sound-to-meaning connections are important not only for music but for other aspects of communication."
For example, researchers have found that musicians are better than non-musicians in learning to incorporate sound patterns for a new language into words. Their brains also appear to be primed to comprehend speech in a noisy background.
Children who have had music lessons tend to have a larger vocabulary and better reading ability than youngsters who haven't had any musical training.
And children with learning disabilities, who often have a hard time focusing when there's a lot of background noise, may be especially helped by music lessons. "Music training seems to strengthen the same neural processes that often are deficient in individuals with developmental dyslexia or who have difficulty hearing speech in noise," Dr. Kraus stated.
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