One More Reason To Pick Up That Violin You Played As A Kid

New research suggests that playing a musical instrument could help slow or even prevent the age-related decline of certain mental functions, such as the ability to process data more efficiently without being affected by occasional errors.

What's the Latest Development?

University of St. Andrews researchers sorted a group of adults into one of four categories according to how many hours of musical instrument practice -- ranging from none to over 5,000 -- they'd accumulated. While wearing EEG sensors, they then took two challenging cognitive tests, one of which required them to "respond with their right hand if they saw a red shape, and with their left hand if they saw a blue shape—even if the shapes popped up on the opposite side of the screen." Those with more musical practice responded faster and without any loss in accuracy. In addition, the researchers reported in Neuropsychologica, the more experienced musicians demonstrated "a better ability to detect errors and conflicts, and a reduced reactiveness to these detected problems."

What's the Big Idea?

The ability to process data efficiently without becoming unduly derailed by mistakes is one of the first mental functions to decline with age. The test subjects who'd had musical training were all amateurs, which suggests that music study could be used along with puzzles and other games designed to help keep the mind sharp.

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