In 2014, scientists looked closer than ever before at why exactly music makes us feel so powerfully. And they found some amazing and unprecedented things.
Studies revealed that music can shape our personalities and behaviors. It can help us choose our sexual partners. And it can be used to cure certain ailments. The deeper researchers dig, the more we realize how powerful of a force it truly is.
And these findings could not have come at a more perfect moment in time: School systems continue to slash arts and music budgets around the country and the war over how much we pay for music is fundamentally a question of how much we value music. In this crucial year, scientists delivered infallible reminders of what any music lover already knew: Music is more than just entertainment.
Here are 12 amazing things we discovered about MUSIC this year:
1. Learning an instrument at a young age can provide improved executive function.
Researchers at Boston Children's Hospital found that early musical training helps children improve their executive functions. Executive functions are incredibly important; they enable people to retain information, regulate behavior and solve problems more effectively.
Children that started playing music at age 6 showed enhanced activation in the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that owns executive functions. And they performed far better than control groups on tests requiring them to shift between mental demands. Executive functioning is also a "strong predictor of academic achievement, even more than IQ," said study senior investigator Nadine Gaab. "Our findings suggest that musical training may actually help to set up children for a better academic future."
2. Rhythmic ability has been linked to language learning.
One of the first skills that children need to acquire when learning to read and speak is how to pick up on the rhythms of speech. They gain this ability to detect rhythms and define boundaries between words and syllables long before they can actually speak. So having a good sense of rhythm is very important to learning language. This year, we discovered just how important it really is.
Developmental psychologists at Northwestern University found that testing children for this rhythmic ability is a good way to detect potential language-based disabilities that may hit children later in life. Those that can hold an even drum beat score also higher on early language tests. The study's authors suggest that parents and educators use rhythmic tests to try to identify and address any possible linguistic deficiencies while children's brains are still young and malleable.
3. Music training can help close the achievement gap.
Nina Kraus, a Northwestern researcher also involved with the previous study, found that music can be vital in helping schools close the achievement gap — the massive inequality in academic performance between students from different socioeconomic backgrounds.
Kraus studied the neural activity of kids beginning their music education while working with the Harmony Project, a nonprofit after-school program that teaches music to children in low-income communities in Los Angeles. Using EEGs, Kraus found that brainwaves of disadvantaged children were "noisier, weaker and more variable" in responding to verbal stimuli than children from more privileged backgrounds.
But after two years of musical training, she discovered something very different. She found that students with musical training had gotten much better at making clear neural responses to consonants and vowels. This faster processing power will likely have huge benefits for these children's language acquisition and concentration. Music might be one of most effective ways to help give children from disadvantaged backgrounds the cognitive tools they need to escape poverty.
4. It can combat ADHD.
Three scientists from the University of Graz uncovered a startling pattern in a recent longitudinal study investigating what musical learning does to a brain's plasticity. It turns out that kids who learn music boasted significantly thicker grey matter in brain areas linked to attention and concentration. The kids also demonstrated enhanced right-left hemispheric synchronization, which led to high scores on attentional, linguistic and literacy tests.
In short, musical training builds the same brain structures that are markedly deficient in neural scans of children suffering from ADHD. The scientists hypothesized that early music training can be major benefit to helping children reduce the negative impacts associated with ADHD.
Info from Music.Mic