University of Vermont study: Musical training linked to enhanced brain maturation

20 Jan

Mozart was a child prodigy. Most of us don’t come close to possessing his gifts. The Journal Times reported about the “Mozart effect.”

Mozart Effect

Scientific research has found some basis for the notion that music instruction stimulates general intelligence. About 10 years ago that was called the Mozart effect, the result of some research that reported that listening to a Mozart sonata increased the ability of some college students on a test of mental ability. Popular wisdom twisted that into the notion that listening to music makes you smarter, which is more magic than science. What scientists say at the moment is that music instruction will make you smarter about music, and that for music to help children they need to begin instruction really, really early….

Music consists of rhythms and mathematic like patterns which change a child’s brain and way of thinking. Research which was published in the Journal of Neuropsychology suggests that children who study music will as adults will benefit from music study. The research shows “….that the region of the brain involved in verbal memory is larger in adult musicians than in those who are not musicians.” Mental Ability Affected by Music Study Further, Rauscher’s study concludes “the research suggests that music may act as a catalyst for cognitive abilities in other disciplines, and the relationship between music and spatial-temporal reasoning is particularly compelling.” Music Affects a Child’s Cognitive Ability

Science Daily reported in Could playing Tchaikovsky’s ‘Nutcracker’ and other music improve kids’ brains?

Children who play the violin or study piano could be learning more than just Mozart. A University of Vermont College of Medicine child psychiatry team has found that musical training might also help kids focus their attention, control their emotions and diminish their anxiety. Their research is published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.

James Hudziak, M.D., professor of psychiatry and director of the Vermont Center for Children, Youth and Families, and colleagues including Matthew Albaugh, Ph.D., and graduate student research assistant Eileen Crehan, call their study “the largest investigation of the association between playing a musical instrument and brain development.”

The research continues Hudziak’s work with the National Institutes of Health Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) Study of Normal Brain Development. Using its database, the team analyzed the brain scans of 232 children ages 6 to 18.

As children age, the cortex — the outer layer of the brain — changes in thickness. In previous analysis of MRI data, Hudziak and his team discovered that cortical thickening or thinning in specific areas of the brain reflected the occurrence of anxiety and depression, attention problems, aggression and behavior control issues even in healthy kids — those without a diagnosis of a disorder or mental illness. With this study, Hudziak wanted to see whether a positive activity, such as music training, would influence those indicators in the cortex.

The study supports The Vermont Family Based Approach, a model Hudziak created to establish that the entirety of a young person’s environment — parents, teachers, friends, pets, extracurricular activities — contributes to his or her psychological health. “Music is a critical component in my model,” Hudziak says….


Could playing Tchaikovsky’s ‘Nutcracker’ and other music improve kids’ brains?

Date: December 23, 2014
Source: University of Vermont
In a study called ‘the largest investigation of the association between playing a musical instrument and brain development,’ a child psychiatry team has found that musical training might also help kids focus their attention, control their emotions and diminish their anxiety.

Cortical Thickness Maturation and Duration of Music Training: Health-Promoting Activities Shape Brain Development
James J. Hudziak, MD
Matthew D. Albaugh, PhD
Simon Ducharme, MD
Sherif Karama, MD, PhD
Margaret Spottswood, MD
Eileen Crehan, BA
Alan C. Evans, PhD
Kelly N. Botteron, MD
for the
Brain Development Cooperative Group
Accepted: August 28, 2014; Published Online: September 03, 2014
Article Info
• Abstract
• Full Text
• Images
• References
• Supplemental Materials
To assess the extent to which playing a musical instrument is associated with cortical thickness development among healthy youths.
Participants were part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) Study of Normal Brain Development. This study followed a longitudinal design such that participants underwent MRI scanning and behavioral testing on up to 3 separate visits, occurring at 2-year intervals. MRI, IQ, and music training data were available for 232 youths (334 scans), ranging from 6 to 18 years of age. Cortical thickness was regressed against the number of years that each youth had played a musical instrument. Next, thickness was regressed against an “Age × Years of Playing” interaction term. Age, gender, total brain volume, and scanner were controlled for in analyses. Participant ID was entered as a random effect to account for within-person dependence. False discovery rate correction was applied (p ≤ .05).
There was no association between thickness and years playing a musical instrument. The “Age × Years of Playing” interaction was associated with thickness in motor, premotor, and supplementary motor cortices, as well as prefrontal and parietal cortices. Follow-up analysis revealed that music training was associated with an increased rate of thickness maturation. Results were largely unchanged when IQ and handedness were included as covariates.
Playing a musical instrument was associated with more rapid cortical thickness maturation within areas implicated in motor planning and coordination, visuospatial ability, and emotion and impulse regulation. However, given the quasi-experimental nature of this study, we cannot rule out the influence of confounding variables.

Here is the press release from the University of Vermont:

Musical Training Linked to Enhanced Brain Maturation
Patients who come to see child psychiatrists like Dr. Jim Hudziak at the Vermont Center for Children, Youth, and Families may leave with a prescription, but it often is not for a medication. As part of a model he developed called The Vermont Family Based Approach (VFBA), there is increased emphasis on incorporating wellness and health promotion strategies into the overall treatment plan. As Hudziak explains in a podcast related to the study, “One of my life goals is to see if there is a chance to move medicine away from its preoccupation with negative events and negative outcomes to argue that the opposite is also true, and that when positive things happen, positive outcomes will follow.” Thus, the goal of this model for children and families is to help them take steps not only to overcome whatever symptoms they have but to propel them towards true mental health and wellness. To get there requires attention to domains such as nutrition, parental mental health, sleep, mindfulness, and physical activity, often given short shrift in traditional approaches. Music and the arts are also highly encouraged within the VFBA. According to the Department of Education, approximately 75% of American high school students rarely or never participate in music or art training outside of the school.
While participation in music and the arts is widely viewed as positive for child development, how it affects the brain remains only partially understood. To investigate this question further and to bolster the scientific evidence behind the push for more involvement in music, Dr. Hudziak and his postdoctural associate Matt Albaugh, along with a team comprised of scientists from the University of Vermont, Montreal Neurological Institute, Harvard, and Washington University, examined brain scan data from the National Institutes of Health MRI Study of Normal Brain Behavior. Their study was published as the lead article in the November edition of the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.
The subjects for the study were 232 typically developing children without psychiatric illness between the ages of 6 and 18, all of whom received structural MRI scans at up to three different time points. With these serial MRI scans the examiners were able to see how the thickness of the brain cortex changed with age. Prior studies have indicated that the cortex generally thins across adolescence as the brain undergoes a normal “pruning” process that may be related to more efficient brain functioning. A delay in this cortical thinning process, particularly in regions such as the prefrontal and orbitofrontal cortex, which are thought to be important for “executive control” functions such as inhibiting impulses and regulating attention, has recently been shown among those with clinical attention problems and ADHD.
The amount of musical training a child had was also measured to see if this variable interacted with age in its association to cortical thickness. The average time playing an instrument was about two years.
The main result of the study was that years of musical training were indeed related to age-related cortical thinning. Specifically, more musical training was associated with accelerated thinning, not only in the expected motor cortices but also in some of the very same regions implicated in those with more pronounced attention problems. “What was surprising was to see regions that play key roles in emotional regulation also modified by the amount of musical training one did.”
The authors concluded that musical training was associated with more rapid cortical maturation across many brain areas, and they hypothesized that musical training may have beneficial effects on brain development for children whether or not they suffered from attention or executive function difficulties.
Certainly, much more research is needed to support the notion of musical training as an effective treatment for diagnoses such as ADHD, but this study raises some thought-provoking possibilities. In the article, Hudziak and colleagues highlight Venezuela’s El Sistema program that has brought musical training and performance to millions of disadvantaged children both abroad and here in the U.S.. Studies have shown important improvements in drop-out rates, employment, and community involvement among participants of the program. Such efforts are critical as many families are unable to access music lessons due to their cost. Dr. Hudziak, who has done research on the genetic influence of various traits and abilities, notes that our culture seems to have it backwards in promoting certain activities only for children who seem born to excel at them. He questions why “only the great athletes compete, only the great musicians play, and only the great singers sing,” especially as children age. He and his team have worked to improve local access to musical training through research studies and mentorship programs. The need is still high, however, and is now underscored by the increasing data linking wellness activities to measurable changes in brain development.
Hudziak JJ, Albaugh MD, et al. Cortical thickness maturation and duration of music training: Health-promoting activities shape brain development. JAACAP. 2014;11:1153-1161.

The question is not whether children should be exposed to and study music. Children should be exposed to a wide range of the arts. The issue is what content is appropriate. A Book Rags Student Essays lays out the issues with hip hop music and its sometimes negative effects on the culture. Negative Effects of Hip Hop The late C. Delores Tucker and Tipper Gore were ridiculed when they pointed out the negative effects of glorifying violence and demeaning women by calling them “bitches and hos.” Lest people think that hip hop music and hip hop culture only affect children of color, think again. NPR had a segment entitled “why white kids love hip hop.” Why White Kids Love Hip Hop The negative life style choices and clothing glorified by many “gangsta” artists are affecting mainstream culture.

There is no one right type of music, good music comes in all genres. There is music that feeds the soul and music that destroys the soul, psyche, and culture. There is a positive hip hop movement. Essence, a magazine targeted at Black woman and the Berklee College of Music are joining forces Positive Hip Hop:

Berklee College of Music, in an effort to influence the direction of rap, is joining Essence magazine’s Take Back the Music campaign, meant in part to encourage young artists who offer alternatives to the violent and sex-laden lyrics found in some popular hip-hop music….

Amazon has a positive hip hop guide. Just as parents want to provide a nutritious menu of food, they need to make sure that young minds are properly nourished as well.

If your child loves Mozart, that doesn’t make them a sissy. Your child can love hip hop without that making them a thug.

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