ICMPC Day One- Music and Cognitive Skills

Finally, I attended a shorter session to end Day One at ICMPC. Just two talks in this section, both based on studies investigating the association between music lessons and cognitive skills. The first was a study by Glenn Schellenberg and the second by Kathleen Corrigall (Laurel Trainor’s student)

1) Glenn began by reviewing the difficulties encountered when studying the link between musical training and increases in cognitive skills. The difficulty of detecting the effects of “shared environmental factors” is notorious – your study has to control for many factors both across and within subjects. Glenn’s 2004/2006 studies rightly remain the gold standard in this field, where he established evidence for an effect of musical lessons on full scale IQ (FSIQ) – an increase, typically, of a few points.

In his new study he investigates whether executive function (EF) may be an important co-varying factor that influences the effect of musical training on scores of FSIQ. He used multiple regressions to determine if EF is a ‘mediating factor’ . He measured EF using a number of standardised tools including the Wisconsin Card Sorting Task , the Tower of Hanoi , a child version of the Stroop , tests of phonological fluency, and Digit Span. He controlled for his usual impressive number of mitigating factors including family income, parental education, parental language ability, and involvement in non-musical activity.

He found that the group that had musical training showed around a 10point difference in FSIQ compared to his control group, the largest difference he has personally ever found in his studies of this ilk. FSIQ correlated with EF, as would as expected. However, there were no differences across groups on EF and no difference in any of the test results except Digit Span. So from these findings Glenn has dismissed the idea that musical training influences FSIQ by means of an increase in EF.– (he actually showed a little graphic of the hypothesis going up in flames!)

2) The second paper looked at the predictive relationship between length of musical training and cognitive skills. So here the research question is less about the way in which musical training might influence FSIQ and more about how length of training might be associated with an increase in FSIQ. In addition to the types of tasks used by Glenn, Kathleen also used tests of auditory and visual attention, which I think is a promising area in this field.

She also reported no evidence for a mediating effect of EF on FSIQ, so the evidence is defiantly mounting up against this hypothesis. Unfortunately the rest of her study was still underway, so no definitive conclusions yet. Taster results however, included a possible link between scores of working memory, FSIQ and nonverbal IQ, and ability in rhythmic processing. I think the link with rhythmic processing is definitely an under-researched area that has promise as a possible mediating factor. I will be keeping my eyes out for the final results of this nice looking study.

And that is the end of a long Day One! Highlights coming up for Day Two include the evolution symposium organised by Ani Patel (including new Snowball videos ) and my talk in the amusia session! 🙂