Background: Musical ability has always been linked to enhanced cognitive and intellectual skills. We were interested in the relation between musical ability and short-time cognitive processing as measured by event-related potentials, in particular in visual processing, since previous studies have already suggested such a link for acoustic cognitive processing. We measured auditory and visual event-related potentials as elicited by an oddball paradigm in 20 healthy subjects (10 musicians and 10 non-musicians; 10 female; mean age 24 ± 2 years). In addition, the Seashore test and a test developed by the authors to detect relevant amusia, the latter one with a high ceiling effect, were also applied.
Results: The most important finding was that there is a significant linear correlation between musical ability as measured by these tests and the P3 latencies of both the auditory and visual event-related potentials. Furthermore, musicians showed shorter latencies of the event-related potentials than non-musicians.
Conclusions: We conclude that musical ability as measured by neuropsychological tests is associated with improved short-time cognitive processing both in the auditory and, surprisingly, also in the visual domain.