Study Shows Musical Training Contributes Greatly in the Improvement of Human Attentional System

A recent examination about the effects of years of musical training among professional musicians revealed that when compared to non-musicians, their musical training created notable differences in the improvement of attentional systems.

Conducted by David Medina, BMEd of the Universidad Metropolitana de Ciencias de la EducaciĆ³n, and Paulo Barraza, PhD, Center for Advanced Research in Education, University of Chile, both in Santiago, Chile, it is the first of its kind study that provides information useful in the development of cognitive abilities in the educational and medical fields.

School programs, seeking to further the development of cognitive abilities may implement conscious and intentional practice of music as a method. In the clinical field, encouraging deliberate practice of music in patients with ADHD can be applied as a means of strengthening their ability to manage attention distractions.

Paulo Barraza, leader of the investigating team said their analysis has brought them to the conclusion that professional musicians have quicker and more accurate ability to respond, by knowing immediately what is important to the performance of tasks. Mainly because compared to non-musicians, professional musicians have developed the ability to filter out irrelevant and incompatible stimuli.

Facts about the Human Attentional System

The human attentional system is said to consist of three (3) subsystems brought about by different neural networks, namely the executive control, alerting, and orienting networks.

 

Alerting Networks have functions related to the ability of humans to maintain readiness for action.

The function of the Orienting Networks is linked to the selection of information received by the senses, which could bring about changes in attentional focus.

The Executive Control functions to suppress distracting and incompatible stimuli to the system that manages and control actions.

Findings of the Study of the Effects of Musical Training in the Improvement of Attentional Systems

In the study conducted by Barraza and Medina, the results of their attentional networks tests on 36 individuals presented evidence that there is a correlation between the orienting and alerting networks in musicians. The reflected relationship was attributed to the deliberate practice of music by musicians, a premise that is not true to non-musicians.

Of the 36 individuals who took the attentional network tests, 18 are professional pianists and 18 was a matched group of adults not at all engaged in music as a profession. The group of musicians are a mix of full-time conservatory of students and graduates from the Universidad Mayor de Chile, Conservatories of the Universidad de Chile, and the Universidad Austral de Chile, all with an average of 12 years or more musical practice.

The other half of the group of testers, were also a mixed group of students and graduates, but without education in music lessons, nor have the ability to read or play music.

All participants are right-handed, with normal hearing capability, and native Spanish speakers. Moreover, none of the participants had any history of psychiatric or neurological conditions.

Other points of interest included findings that showed improvements in the efficiency of the executive control system among those with years of musical training. The results of the attentional network test also revealed that in the case of musicians, there was evidence that the efficiency of the orienting and alerting systems can potentially extend to the inhibitory executive control system.

The test results showed that with non-musicians, the three (3) attentional networks functioned independently.