Examining neural plasticity and cognitive benefit through the unique lens of musical training

Hear Res. 2014 Feb;308:84-97. doi: 10.1016/j.heares.2013.09.012. Epub 2013 Sep 27.


Training programs aimed to alleviate or improve auditory-cognitive abilities have either experienced mixed success or remain to be fully validated. The limited benefits of such regimens are largely attributable to our weak understanding of (i) how (and which) interventions provide the most robust and long lasting improvements to cognitive and perceptual abilities and (ii) how the neural mechanisms which underlie such abilities are positively modified by certain activities and experience. Recent studies indicate that music training provides robust, long-lasting biological benefits to auditory function. Importantly, the behavioral advantages conferred by musical experience extend beyond simple enhancements to perceptual abilities and even impact non-auditory functions necessary for higher-order aspects of cognition (e.g., working memory, intelligence). Collectively, preliminary findings indicate that alternative forms of arts engagement (e.g., visual arts training) may not yield such widespread enhancements, suggesting that music expertise uniquely taps and refines a hierarchy of brain networks subserving a variety of auditory as well as domain-general cognitive mechanisms. We infer that transfer from specific music experience to broad cognitive benefit might be mediated by the degree to which a listener's musical training tunes lower- (e.g., perceptual) and higher-order executive functions, and the coordination between these processes. Ultimately, understanding the broad impact of music on the brain will not only provide a more holistic picture of auditory processing and plasticity, but may help inform and tailor remediation and training programs designed to improve perceptual and cognitive benefits in human listeners.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Auditory Perception / physiology
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Stem / physiology
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Education
  • Evoked Potentials, Auditory
  • Humans
  • Language
  • Learning
  • Models, Neurological
  • Music*
  • Neuronal Plasticity*
  • Otoacoustic Emissions, Spontaneous / physiology
  • Pitch Perception / physiology
  • Reproducibility of Results