Summary: According to researchers, bilingual people and trained musicians utilize fewer resources in their brains while completing working memory tasks. As their brains require less effort to perform tasks, researchers speculate this could protect them from the onset of cognitive decline.
Source: Baycrest Center for Geriatric Care.
Whether you learn to play a musical instrument or speak another language, you’re training your brain to be more efficient, suggests a Baycrest study.
Researchers found that musicians and people who are bilingual utilized fewer brain resources when completing a working memory task, according to recently published findings in the journal, Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences.
Individuals with either a musical or bilingual background activated different brain networks and showed less brain activity than people who only spoke one language and didn’t have formal music training to complete the task, according to the study’s findings.
“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,” says Dr. Claude Alain, first author of the paper and senior scientist at Baycrest’s Rotman Research Institute. “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. But it remains a mystery as to why this is the case. This is the first brain imaging study looking at all three groups and this work uncovers how these activities boost different parts of the brain among individuals, adds Dr. Alain.
The study looked at 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. Brain imagery was captured for each participant as they were asked to identify whether the sound they heard was the same type as the previous one. Sounds from musical instruments, the environment and humans were among those used in the study. Participants were also asked to identify if what they heard was coming from the same direction as the previous noise.
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 individuals 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,” says Dr. Alain, who is also an associate professor at the University of Toronto’s Institute of Medical Science and the Department of Psychology. “During this task, the brains of bilinguals showed greater signs of activation in areas that are known for speech comprehension, supporting this theory.”
As next steps, researchers are exploring the impact of art and musical training among adults to see if this leads to changes in brain function.
Funding: This research was supported by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.
Source: Michelle Petch Gotuzzo – Baycrest Center for Geriatric Care
Publisher: Organized by NeuroscienceNews.com.
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Original Research: Abstract for “Different neural activities support auditory working memory in musicians and bilinguals” by Claude Alain, Yasha Khatamian, Yu He, Yunjo Lee, Sylvain Moreno, Ada W. S. Leung, and Ellen Bialystok in Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. Published May 17 2018.
Different neural activities support auditory working memory in musicians and bilinguals
Musical training and bilingualism benefit executive functioning and working memory (WM)—however, the brain networks supporting this advantage are not well specified. Here, we used functional magnetic resonance imaging and the n‐back task to assess WM for spatial (sound location) and nonspatial (sound category) auditory information in musician monolingual (musicians), nonmusician bilinguals (bilinguals), and nonmusician monolinguals (controls). Musicians outperformed bilinguals and controls on the nonspatial WM task. Overall, spatial and nonspatial WM were associated with greater activity in dorsal and ventral brain regions, respectively. Increasing WM load yielded similar recruitment of the anterior‐posterior attention network in all three groups. In both tasks and both levels of difficulty, musicians showed lower brain activity than controls in superior prefrontal frontal gyrus and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) bilaterally, a finding that may reflect improved and more efficient use of neural resources. Bilinguals showed enhanced activity in language‐related areas (i.e., left DLPFC and left supramarginal gyrus) relative to musicians and controls, which could be associated with the need to suppress interference associated with competing semantic activations from multiple languages. These findings indicate that the auditory WM advantage in musicians and bilinguals is mediated by different neural networks specific to each life experience.