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PLoS One. 2014 Jun 17;9(6):e99868. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0099868. eCollection 2014.

Behavioral and neural correlates of executive functioning in musicians and non-musicians.

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  • 1Laboratories of Cognitive Neuroscience, Division of Developmental Medicine, Department of Developmental Medicine, Boston Children's Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts, United States of America; Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts, United States of America.
  • 2Laboratories of Cognitive Neuroscience, Division of Developmental Medicine, Department of Developmental Medicine, Boston Children's Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts, United States of America; Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts, United States of America; University of California Los Angeles, Semel Institute, Los Angeles, California, United States of America.
  • 3Laboratories of Cognitive Neuroscience, Division of Developmental Medicine, Department of Developmental Medicine, Boston Children's Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts, United States of America.
  • 4Laboratories of Cognitive Neuroscience, Division of Developmental Medicine, Department of Developmental Medicine, Boston Children's Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts, United States of America; Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts, United States of America; Harvard Graduate School of Education, Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States of America.

Abstract

Executive functions (EF) are cognitive capacities that allow for planned, controlled behavior and strongly correlate with academic abilities. Several extracurricular activities have been shown to improve EF, however, the relationship between musical training and EF remains unclear due to methodological limitations in previous studies. To explore this further, two experiments were performed; one with 30 adults with and without musical training and one with 27 musically trained and untrained children (matched for general cognitive abilities and socioeconomic variables) with a standardized EF battery. Furthermore, the neural correlates of EF skills in musically trained and untrained children were investigated using fMRI. Adult musicians compared to non-musicians showed enhanced performance on measures of cognitive flexibility, working memory, and verbal fluency. Musically trained children showed enhanced performance on measures of verbal fluency and processing speed, and significantly greater activation in pre-SMA/SMA and right VLPFC during rule representation and task-switching compared to musically untrained children. Overall, musicians show enhanced performance on several constructs of EF, and musically trained children further show heightened brain activation in traditional EF regions during task-switching. These results support the working hypothesis that musical training may promote the development and maintenance of certain EF skills, which could mediate the previously reported links between musical training and enhanced cognitive skills and academic achievement.

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