Objective: To assess the extent to which playing a musical instrument is associated with cortical thickness development among healthy youths.
Method: Participants were part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) Study of Normal Brain Development. This study followed a longitudinal design such that participants underwent MRI scanning and behavioral testing on up to 3 separate visits, occurring at 2-year intervals. MRI, IQ, and music training data were available for 232 youths (334 scans), ranging from 6 to 18 years of age. Cortical thickness was regressed against the number of years that each youth had played a musical instrument. Next, thickness was regressed against an "Age × Years of Playing" interaction term. Age, gender, total brain volume, and scanner were controlled for in analyses. Participant ID was entered as a random effect to account for within-person dependence. False discovery rate correction was applied (p ≤ .05).
Results: There was no association between thickness and years playing a musical instrument. The "Age × Years of Playing" interaction was associated with thickness in motor, premotor, and supplementary motor cortices, as well as prefrontal and parietal cortices. Follow-up analysis revealed that music training was associated with an increased rate of thickness maturation. Results were largely unchanged when IQ and handedness were included as covariates.
Conclusion: Playing a musical instrument was associated with more rapid cortical thickness maturation within areas implicated in motor planning and coordination, visuospatial ability, and emotion and impulse regulation. However, given the quasi-experimental nature of this study, we cannot rule out the influence of confounding variables.
Keywords: MRI; cortical thickness; music.
Copyright © 2014 American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.