A new study out of York University finds that music-based cognitive training offers dramatic benefits for young children, including improved verbal intelligence.
The study, conducted at York and the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto, appeared online yesterday in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science. It looked at children between the ages of four and six, concluding that 90 per cent of those studied showed significant cognitive gains after only 20 days of training on interactive, music-based cognitive training cartoons. These results were confirmed by imaging data which indicated that brain changes had taken place following the exercises.
Right: Cognitive gains were experienced in children between the ages of four and six after just 20 days of training on an interactive music-based training program. Click on the image to view one of the programs used in the study.
“Our data have confirmed a rapid transfer of cognitive benefits in young children after only 20 days of training on an interactive, music-based cognitive training program. The strength of this effect in almost all of the children was remarkable,” says study lead author Sylvain Moreno, who carried out the research while at York University. Moreno is now lead scientist at Baycrest’s Centre for Brain Fitness in Toronto.
York Distinguished Research Professor Ellen Bialystok, principal collaborator on the study, says the results also have impact beyond the benefits of musical education.
“These results are dramatic not only because they clearly connect cognitive improvement to musical training, but also because the improvements in language and attention are found in completely different domains than the one used for training. This has enormous implications for development and education,” says Bialystok, a member of York’s Department of Psychology and associate scientist at Baycrest.
In the study, 48 preschoolers participated in computer-based cognitive training programs which were projected onto a classroom wall and featured colourful, animated cartoon characters delivering the lessons.
The children were divided into two groups: One received music-based training that involved a combination of motor, perceptual and cognitive tasks, and included instruction on rhythm, pitch, melody, voice and basic musical concepts. The other received visual art training that emphasized the development of visuo-spatial skills relating to concepts such as shape, colour, line, dimension and perspective. Both groups received two one-hour training sessions each day, over four weeks, led by Royal Conservatory instructors.
Researchers tested the children for verbal and spatial intelligence before and after the training using the Wechsler Preschool and Primary Scale of Intelligence (third edition). The team also conducted brain imaging using non-invasive electroencephalography (EEG), which measures brain activity.
When children were retested five to 20 days post-program, researchers found no significant increases in verbal intelligence or brain changes for the children who completed the visual art training module. However, they found quite a different result in the children who took the music-based training: 90 per cent of those children exhibited intelligence improvements – five times larger than the other group – on a measure of vocabulary knowledge, as well as increased accuracy and reaction time.
The scientific team included Tom Chau, senior scientist at the Bloorview Research Institute and Canada Research Chair in Paediatric Rehabilitation Engineering, and Glenn Schellenberg, professor in the University of Toronto Mississauga’s Department of Psychology. George Brown College provided assistance in the early stages of software development for the training programs.
The study was supported by a grant to Moreno from the Ontario Centres of Excellence, and a grant to Bialystok from the US National Institutes of Health. The scientific team also included Raluca Barac and Nicholas Cepeda of York University.