Efficiency of attentional networks in musicians and non-musicians

Heliyon. 2019 Mar 26;5(3):e01315. doi: 10.1016/j.heliyon.2019.e01315. eCollection 2019 Mar.


Music is a complex and properly human skill. Previous studies indicate that systematic musical training induces specific structural brain changes and improves audio-motor functions. However, whether these benefits can transfer into functional improvements of attentional skills is still little known. To shed light on this issue, in the present study we explored the relationship between long-term musical training and the efficiency of the attentional system. We used the attention network test (ANT) to compare the performance of the alerting, orienting and executive attentional networks of professional pianists against a matched group of non-musician adults. We found that musicians were significantly faster to respond across the ANT task, and that the executive attentional network was more efficient in musicians than non-musicians. We found no differences in the efficiency of the alerting and orienting networks between both groups. Interestingly, we found that the efficiency of the executive system improves with the years of musical training, even when controlling for age. We also found that the three attentional networks of the non-musicians were functionally independent. However, in the case of the musicians, the efficiency of the alerting and orienting systems was associated. These findings provide evidence of a potential transfer effect from systematic musical training into inhibitory attentional control.

Keywords: Neuroscience; Psychology.