Does music make us more responsive?

What if playing the guitar, piano or bass could improve your multisensory capacities and responsiveness? A study conducted by Simon P. Landry and François Champoux of the School of Speech Therapy and Audiology at the University of Montreal shows just this. These Canadian researchers studied the reactions of musicians and non-musicians in response to various types of sensory stimuli. Does playing an instrument improve sensory processing?

Numerous studies have suggested that musical training may improve the way in which our senses interact. In the present study, the scientists wanted to verify if, over the long run, this training could improve multisensory processes at the behavioral level. To do so, they administered an audio-tactile response task to a group of musicians and non-musicians. The musician group was composed of 16 musicians (recruited from the school of medicine) that had at least 7 years of musical training (they began learning the instrument between the ages of 3 and 10). Among them there were eight pianists, three violinists, two percussionists, a double bass player, a harpist, and a viola player. With the exception of one violinist, all were able to play a second instrument, or even more. The second group consisted of 19 people recruited from the School of Speech Therapy and Audiology that had never learned to play any musical instrument.

How was the experiment carried out?

The participants were seated in a quiet, well-lit room. One hand rested on a computer mouse, while the index finger of the other hand was connected to a vibrating-tactile device that vibrated intermittently. Subjects were asked to click the mouse when they heard a sound coming from the speakers in front of them or when the tactile device vibrated (the subjects were wearing ear plugs to mask any buzzing from the tactile device), or when the two events occurred simultaneously. Each of the three stimuli - audio, tactile and audio-tactile - was repeated 180 times.

The results were as follows: whether isolated or multisensorial, musicians reacted to the stimulation more quickly than non-musicians. Thus, S. Landry suggests that "long-term musical training could be useful in improving reaction times in slower individuals," and could help fight cognitive aging and decline. Offering music workshops to seniors might be beneficial for this purpose.
Source: Simon P. Landry and François Champoux, “Musicians react faster and are better multisensory integrators”, in Brain and Cognition, 12 Dec. 2016.

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