Musical kids might be better at identifying statistical patterns

15 May 2017

  • New findings suggest that musical training in kids makes them better at identifying statistical patterns hidden in both sound and visual cues
  • The brains of children with musical training can detect statistical regularities, such as relationships between sound or visual elements, quicker than their non-musician counterparts
  • The results imply that music-based remediation may be a potential avenue for treating children and adults with specific types of learning impairment

Kids with musical training may have an advantage when it comes to detecting statistical patterns, both audio and visual ones, a new study led by Macquarie University researchers has found.

The results of the study, published in Clinical Neurophysiology, indicate that children who have some form of musical instrument training also have enhanced statistical learning ability – the ability to notice regularities and use them to learn, and therefore predict, what will happen next.

“We found that children who had some form of musical training also performed better in statistical learning tasks, which indicates that training in auditory tasks, such as learning a musical instrument, may also help kids with their ability to detect patterns,” explained lead author of the study Dr Pragati Mandikal-Vasuki.

The researchers first used an array of behavioural detection mechanisms to test for the auditory-related and statistical learning abilities of children, aged between nine and 11, with and without musical training.

“Understandably, behavioural testing showed that children with some form of musical training were better at melody discrimination, rhythm discrimination, and frequency discrimination. It also indicated that they were better at auditory statistical learning, but not necessarily visual statistical learning,” said Dr Mandikal-Vasuki.

However, when the researchers measured the brain activity, as opposed to behavioural cues, of the children when they were detecting statistical patterns, another insight came to light.

“We could see evidence that that the brains of children with musical training were quicker to detect statistical regularities across both sound and visual stimuli, indicating that musical training not only increases a child’s ability to pinpoint a hidden sound pattern, but also potentially, a visual pattern too,” said Ms Mandikal-Vasuki.

The findings imply that music-based remediation may be a potential avenue for treating children with specific types of learning impairment.

“These results add another layer of understanding to our current knowledge of how musical training alters learning pathways in the brain, and could help us to develop programs, potentially based on musical-learning therapies, to better treat children and adults who have particular types of learning difficulties,” concluded Ms Mandikal-Vasuki.

Mandikal Vasuki, Pragati R; Sharma, Mridula; Ibrahim, Ronny; Arciuli, Joanne. Statistical learning and auditory processing in children with music training: an ERP study. Clinical Neurophysiology. April 2017. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.clinph.2017.04.010

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