Music lessons help boost brain power: study
A new study found that learning to play an instrument boosted the number of connections in the brain after just nine months of practice. Researchers think music lessons could potentially help treat learning disorders like autism and ADHD. (Pexels CC0)
Misha Gajewski, CTVNews.ca
Published Monday, November 21, 2016 3:38PM EST
Last Updated Monday, November 21, 2016 10:37PM EST
A new study found that learning to play an instrument increased the number of connections in the brain after just nine months of practice.
Researchers think music lessons could potentially help treat learning disorders like autism and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
"It's been known that musical instruction benefits children with these disorders," said Dr. Pilar Dies-Suarez, the study’s lead author, who wanted to understand exactly how the brain changes to result in those improvements.
The researchers from the Hospital Infantil de México Federico Gómez in Mexico City looked at 23 children without the condition between five and six years of age who hadn’t taken any lessons before.
Each child was given a brain scan, using something known as diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) – an advanced MRI technique which scans the brain’s white matter.
White matter is made up of millions of nerve fibres called axons, which connect the parts of the brain together.
DTI scanning measures the movement of water molecules along the axons, which can point out if the child has brain development issues or not.
As a child grows and their brain matures, connections between areas of the brain improve and the movement of water molecules increases.
Previous research has linked autism and ADHD with a decrease in fibre connections and in the movement of water molecules.
After nine months of musical training the children were scanned again and the scans showed improvements in the movement of water molecules along the axons as well as the length of the axon themselves.
In other words, the connections between the different parts of the brain grew stronger.
"Experiencing music at an early age can contribute to better brain development, optimizing the creation and establishment of neural networks, and stimulating the existing brain tracts," said Dies-Suarez.
She explained: "When a child receives musical instruction, their brains are asked to complete certain tasks. These tasks involve hearing, motor, cognition, emotion and social skills, which seem to activate these different brain areas. These results may have occurred because of the need to create more connections between the two hemispheres of the brain."
The researchers saw a marked improvement in the area of the brain known as the minor forceps, which is particularly underdeveloped in children with autism and ADHD.
While the study has only been performed on children without the condition, the researchers believe that the results of their study could help create more specific treatments for disorders such as autism and ADHD.
The Royal Conservatory of Music in Canada recognizes the benefits of music education for children with special needs and told CTVNews.ca that they are introducing a class specifically designed for children with autism in January.