Can you hear me now? Musical training shapes functional brain networks for selective auditory attention and hearing speech in noise

Front Psychol. 2011 Jun 13:2:113. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2011.00113. eCollection 2011.


Even in the quietest of rooms, our senses are perpetually inundated by a barrage of sounds, requiring the auditory system to adapt to a variety of listening conditions in order to extract signals of interest (e.g., one speaker's voice amidst others). Brain networks that promote selective attention are thought to sharpen the neural encoding of a target signal, suppressing competing sounds and enhancing perceptual performance. Here, we ask: does musical training benefit cortical mechanisms that underlie selective attention to speech? To answer this question, we assessed the impact of selective auditory attention on cortical auditory-evoked response variability in musicians and non-musicians. Outcomes indicate strengthened brain networks for selective auditory attention in musicians in that musicians but not non-musicians demonstrate decreased prefrontal response variability with auditory attention. Results are interpreted in the context of previous work documenting perceptual and subcortical advantages in musicians for the hearing and neural encoding of speech in background noise. Musicians' neural proficiency for selectively engaging and sustaining auditory attention to language indicates a potential benefit of music for auditory training. Given the importance of auditory attention for the development and maintenance of language-related skills, musical training may aid in the prevention, habilitation, and remediation of individuals with a wide range of attention-based language, listening and learning impairments.

Keywords: attention; auditory-evoked potentials; cortical variability; language; music; musicians; prefrontal cortex; speech in noise.