Chemie | Biochemie | Medizin


Vivian Bechtiger, 2002 | St. Gallen, SG


Music elevates executive functions by activating complex neurocognitive networks that evoke neurostructural changes. Inhibition is relevant to musicians who must constantly develop new problem-solving strategies by suppressing the distractions of previous learnings. As music and language involve similar neurocognitive domains, bilingualism may also enhance inhibitory skills. This study examined the effects of long-term musical training on inhibition, including those imposed by bilingual education, in adolescents. Inhibition speed and accuracy measured by the D-KEFS Color-Word Interference Test were higher in musicians. Non-musicians with past music training scored higher in accuracy, suggesting residual neuroplasticity from past exposures. Bilingual program musicians exhibited higher inhibition speed than monolingual program musicians, showing an additive effect of both skill sets, though a ceiling or absence of effect was observed in terms of accuracy. Future longitudinal studies utilizing neurocognitive functional outcome measures, linked to objective indicators, would better clarify causal relationships between musicianship and executive functions. The cross-sectional nature of these data prevents stronger causal inference, or exclusion of confounding or information bias.


(I) Do adolescent musicians exhibit higher inhibitory control than their non-musician peers? (II) To what extent does inhibitory control ability depend on either the intensity or duration of musical practice in musicians or in non-musicians with a musical history? (III) In what way does inhibitory control in adolescent musicians combine with bilingual education, additive or “ceiling effect”?


Fourth year high-school music (monolingual and bilingual program) and economics (monolingual program) students completed a questionnaire detailing their music exposure (years of experience, weekly practice hours) and demographics (sex, age), as well as the Color-Word Interference Test, a test assessing inhibition, an executive function mediated in the frontal lobe. Completion speed and accuracy were measured. Non-parametric (Mann-Whitney) and parametric (t-test) analyses in SPSS determined mean differences in inhibition scores between musicians and non-musicians, non-musicians with and without history of past music training, and musicians with and without bilingual education, as well as correlations between inhibition accuracy and speed and both duration and intensity of musical training.


Musicians outperformed non-musicians in terms of inhibitory response speed (p=0.09) and accuracy (p=0.09), showing a statistical trend. Past musicians outperformed those without musical experience in inhibitory response accuracy (p=0.14), merely verging on statistical significance. Practice hours in musicians and duration of musical training were not found to correlate with inhibition. Bilingual program musicians outperformed monolinguals in inhibitory speed (p=0.06).


This study found higher inhibition in musicians during adolescence, a period of marked neurocognitive change. Higher inhibitory accuracy was also observed in non-musicians with past music training, alluding to residual neuroplasticity. Small sample sizes and recall bias likely diluted observed correlations with intensity or duration, each related to dose-response neuroplasticity. Music and language share neurocognitive pathways that impact inhibition, though the exact relationship is little understood. This study found that bilingual program musicians outperformed monolinguals in speed, though confounding factors may have skewed results. Other limitations include the cross-sectional/non-randomized study design, lack of concurrent objective indicators, and exposure and outcome misclassification.


Our results suggest that musical training influences inhibition positively. However, dose-response relationships were not observed, as inhibition did not depend on intensity or duration of musical practice. Musically trained adolescents exhibited higher inhibition than non-musicians, and inhibitory response accuracy was higher in those with past music training than those without. These findings point to possible residual neuroplasticity, through which participants who have earlier quit their instruments still show higher inhibitory skills. Bilingual program musicians exhibited higher inhibition than monolinguals in speed, perhaps due to higher language processing abilities. The findings of this study will hopefully contribute to the advancing literature concerning the benefits of musical training on cognitive function.



Würdigung durch die Expertin

Dr. Carina Klein

Der positive Effekt einer Mozartsonate auf die mathematischen Fähigkeiten ist bis heute in aller Munde – in der Forschung aber kritisch und kontrovers diskutiert. Frau Bechtiger hat sich mit ihrem Thema, der Untersuchung von Exekutivfunktionen im Rahmen der Musikexpertise, an ein sehr aktuelles und heterogenes Forschungsfeld gewagt. Ihre Arbeit überzeugt durch eine gewissenhafte und kritische Auseinandersetzung mit der aktuellen Literatur und einem innovativen Studiendesign. Mit der Kombination der Musik- und Sprachexpertise tragen ihre Ergebnisse zu einem noch jungen Forschungsbereich bei.


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