Being bilingual or a musician means your brain is more efficient (Stock)
Being bilingual or a musician means your brain is more efficient (Stock)

Learning music or another language makes your brain more efficient, researchers find

The study analysed brain activity while participants completed simple tasks 

Chelsea Ritschel
in New York
Thursday 17 May 2018 21:03
comments

If you’ve taken the time to learn music or to speak another language, you’ve also trained your brain into being more efficient, according to a new study.

Researchers at Baycrest’s Rotman Research Institute found that musicians and people who are bilingual utilised fewer brain resources when completing a working memory task.

According to the study, published in the journal, Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, people with either a musical or bilingual background activated different brain networks and showed less brain activity while completing a task than people who only spoke one language or didn’t have formal music training.

Of the findings, Dr Claude Alain, one of the paper’s authors who works as a senior scientist at Baycrest’s Rotman Research Institute and a professor at the University of Toronto's Institute of Medical Science, said: “These findings show that musicians and bilinguals require less effort to perform the same task, which could also protect them against cognitive decline and delay the onset of dementia.

"Our results also demonstrated that a person's experiences, whether it's learning how to play a musical instrument or another language, can shape how the brain functions and which networks are used."

Musicians and people who are bilingual have long been shown to have a better working memory, the ability to keep things in mind, such as remembering a phone number, a list of instructions or doing mental math, however, scientists have not been able to identify why this is.

To conduct the study, researchers analysed the brains of 41 young adults between the ages of 19-35, who fit into three categories: English-speaking non-musicians, musicians who only spoke English and bilinguals who didn't play a musical instrument.

Each participant's brain imagery was captured while they were asked to identify whether a sound, either from a musical instrument, the environment or a human, was the same as the previous one heard.

In addition, participants were asked to identify if the sound they heard was coming from the same direction as the previous noise.

According to the study, musicians remembered the type of sound faster than individuals in the other groups, while bilinguals and musicians performed better on the location task.

Bilinguals performed at about the same level as participants who spoke only one language and didn't play a musical instrument on remembering the sound, but they still showed less brain activity when completing the task.

"People who speak two languages may take longer to process sounds since the information is run through two language libraries rather than just one," Dr Alain concluded. "During this task, the brains of bilinguals showed greater signs of activation in areas that are known for speech comprehension, supporting this theory."

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