Performing Arts Can Set the Stage For More Developed Brain Pathways

Summary: Researchers report on the cognitive benefits of music and dance training.

Source: Concordia University.

New study shows the positive, but different, cognitive effects of dance and music training.

Endless hours at the barre. Long afternoons practising scales. All that time you spent in piano lessons and dance classes as a youngster may have seemed like a pain, but new research now confirms what your parents claimed: it’s good for mind and body.

In fact, a recent study published in NeuroImage by a team of researchers from the the International Laboratory for Brain, Music and Sound Research, proves that dance and music training have even stronger effects on the brain than previously understood — but in markedly different ways.

The researchers used high-tech imaging techniques to compare the effects of dance and music training on the white matter structure of experts in these two disciplines. They then examined the relationship between training-induced brain changes and dance and music abilities.

“We found that dancers and musicians differed in many white matter regions, including sensory and motor pathways, both at the primary and higher cognitive levels of processing,” says Chiara Giacosa, Concordia PhD candidate and the study’s lead author.

In particular, dancers showed broader connections of fibre bundles linking the sensory and motor brain regions themselves, as well as broader fibre bundles connecting the brain’s two hemispheres — in the regions that process sensory and motor information —. In contrast, musicians had stronger and more coherent fibre bundles in those same pathways.

“This suggests that dance and music training affect the brain in opposite directions, increasing global connectivity and crossing of fibres in dance training, and strengthening specific pathways in music training,” Giacosa explains. “Indeed, while dancers train their whole body, which has a broader representation in the neural cortex, musicians focus their training on some specific body parts, such as hands, fingers or the mouth, which have a smaller cortical representation in the brain.”

‘This work has major potential’

Interestingly, dancers and musicians differed more between each other than in comparison to the group of control subjects who had no extensive formal training in either field.

According to Giacosa, this can happen because a range of uncontrolled variables influenced the control subjects in different ways, making them more similar to one group or the other. “Contrary to that, our samples of dancers and musicians were specifically selected to be pure groups of experts, which makes it easier to differentiate between them.”

Virginia Penhune is a professor and chair of Concordia’s Department of Psychology and the study’s senior author. She notes that this research deepens the current knowledge about how regions of the brain are connected in networks, and how these structural networks change with training.

Image shows a man playing piano in a park.

Interestingly, dancers and musicians differed more between each other than in comparison to the group of control subjects who had no extensive formal training in either field. NeuroscienceNews.com image is for illustrative purposes only.

“This work has major potential for being applied to the fields of education and rehabilitation,” Penhune says. “Understanding how dance and music training differently affect brain networks will allow us to selectively use them to enhance their functioning or compensate for difficulties and diseases that involve those specific brain networks.”

Some studies have already shown how music training at a young age can improve various cognitive skills, but dance has yet to be used in a similar way.

“Recent research has started to show some improvements with dance and music therapy in patients affected by Parkinson’s disease and children with autism respectively, but much more can be done with these and other diseases,” says Penhune.

About this psychology research article

The co-authors of this study — Chiara Giacosa, Falisha J. Karpati, Nicholas E.V. Foster, Virginia Penhune, and principal investigator Krista L. Hyde — are all members of the International Laboratory for Brain, Music and Sound Research. Foster and Hyde are also part of McGill University’s Faculty of Medicine. Karpati and Hyde are also part of the Department of Psychology at l’Université de Montréal.

Funding: This study was funded in part by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.

Source: Cléa Desjardins – Concordia University
Image Source: NeuroscienceNews.com image is in the public domain.
Original Research: Abstract for “Dance and music training have different effects on white matter diffusivity in sensorimotor pathways” by Chiara Giacosa, Falisha J. Karpati, Nicholas E.V. Foster, Virginia B. Penhune, and Krista L. Hyde in NeuroImage. Published online October 2016 doi:10.1016/j.neuroimage.2016.04.048

Cite This NeuroscienceNews.com Article
Concordia University. “Performing Arts Can Set the Stage For More Developed Brain Pathways.” NeuroscienceNews. NeuroscienceNews, 5 October 2016.
<http://neurosciencenews.com/cognition-music-arts-5212/>.
Concordia University. (2016, October 5). Performing Arts Can Set the Stage For More Developed Brain Pathways. NeuroscienceNews. Retrieved October 5, 2016 from http://neurosciencenews.com/cognition-music-arts-5212/
Concordia University. “Performing Arts Can Set the Stage For More Developed Brain Pathways.” http://neurosciencenews.com/cognition-music-arts-5212/ (accessed October 5, 2016).

Abstract

Dance and music training have different effects on white matter diffusivity in sensorimotor pathways

Dance and music training have shared and distinct features. Both demand long and intense physical training to master. Dance engages the whole body, and requires the integration of visual, auditory and motor information. In comparison, music engages specific parts of the body and primarily requires the integration of auditory and motor information. Comparing these two forms of long-term training offers a unique way to investigate brain plasticity. Therefore, in the present study we compared the effects of dance and music training on white matter (WM) structure using diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), and examined the relationship between training-induced brain changes and specific measures of dance and music abilities. To this aim, groups of dancers and musicians matched for years of experience were tested on a battery of behavioural tasks and a range of DTI measures.

Our findings show that dancers have increased diffusivity and reduced fibre coherence in WM regions, including the corticospinal tract, superior longitudinal fasciculus and the corpus callosum. In contrast, musicians showed reduced diffusivity and greater coherence of fibres in similar regions. Crucially, diffusivity measures were related to performance on dance and music tasks that differentiated the groups. This suggests that dance and music training produce opposite effects on WM structure. We hypothesize that intensive whole-body dance training may result in greater fanning of fibres connecting different brain regions, an increase in crossing fibres, or larger axon diameter. In contrast, musical training may result in more focussed enhancements of effector-specific pathways. These findings expand our understanding of brain plasticity by emphasizing that different types of training can have different long-term effects on brain structure (Takeuchi et al., 2011; Baer et al., 2015).

“Dance and music training have different effects on white matter diffusivity in sensorimotor pathways” by Chiara Giacosa, Falisha J. Karpati, Nicholas E.V. Foster, Virginia B. Penhune, and Krista L. Hyde in NeuroImage. Published online October 2016 doi:10.1016/j.neuroimage.2016.04.048

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