Musicians present an opportunity for researchers to study neuroplasticity and brain networks. In a new study a multinational group of researchers discovered that musicians have enhanced audio-visual processing abilities and increased brain connectivity in certain processing regions. The results indicate that musical training can alter the structure of key brain networks.
The researchers used magnetoencephalographic (MEG) recordings to observe how the brains of musicians and non-musicians integrated audio and visual stimuli. The participants completed a series of tasks in which they heard the melodies of five tones and saw images of disks at various heights. The melodies and disks were presented either congruently or incongruently, following a pattern in which higher pitched tones corresponded to higher disk positions The researchers compared the musicians’ and the non-musicians’ cortical large-scale function networks to determine how each group handled incongruent sources of information.
The MEG data demonstrated that the musicians’ brains were much more efficient at processing audio-visual data than the non-musicians’ brains. The musicians exhibited greater connectivity in brain areas associated with identifying auditory inputs. They also had denser grey matter and connectivity in the networks related to audio-visual processing than the non-musicians. Additionally, the musicians relied more on processing visual cues to integrate auditory information.
The researchers conclude that music training impacts the brain’s ability to integrate sensory stimuli, stating, “The comparison of the networks used by the musicians and non-musicians reveals significant differences in the connectivity of the temporal sources with precentral and frontal ones. This result seems to depict the audiovisual-motoric binding that musicians have highly trained to read musical scores and to play their instrument.”
The findings contribute to increasing evidence of the benefits of musical training. The study indicates that music training improves the brain’s ability to integrate information.
This research is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
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