Musicians spot mistakes more quickly and more accurately than non-musicians

New research shows the cognitive benefits of even a small amount of musical activity

New research has shown that individuals who play an instrument are more capable at identifying errors and correcting mistakes, and that these benefits apply to amateur musicians as well as professionals.

The study, led by Dr Ines Jentzsch for the University of St Andrews, tested the cognitive abilities of musicians and non-musicians, with the research concluding that learning an instrument could “slow or even prevent”  the mental decline associated with aging.

The research, published in the journal Neuropsychologia, draws particular attention to the skills learnt in musical performance. When playing pieces to an audience or to themselves musicians must demonstrate heightened awareness of their actions: continually monitoring their playing through auditory feedback and rapidly adjusting their movements to anticipate possible mistakes.

The psychological and mental benefits of learning to play an instrument have been shown in previous studies, with research highlighting musicians’ improved reaction times and their increased capacity to “inhibit task irrelevant information” (aka, to stay focused).

“[The results] suggest that higher levels of musical training might result in more efficient information processing in general (indicated by faster overall speed across tasks without accuracy tradeoff), and confirms earlier reports indicating a positive link between mental speed and musical ability,” says Dr Jentzsch.

The research is notable in that unlike previous studies it focuses on amateur rather than professional musicians, showing that even “moderate levels of musical activity” were beneficial to cognitive performance.

The study also drew attention to the diminishing support for children to learn to play in schools, noting that “in times of economic hardship, funds for music education are often amongst the first to be cut.”

“This is particularly worrying given both anecdotal and limited research evidence suggesting that music can have strong positive effects on our physical as well as psychological functioning.”

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