Music for words

Published: Sunday 31 January 1999

Early musical training appears to improve memory for words, claims a new study. Agnes S Chan at the Chinese University in Hong Kong gave a series of verbal memory tests to 30 female students who had had at least six years of music lessons before 12 years of age and to 30 others who had not had musical training. In one test, for example, the students listened to a list of 16 words, and were then asked to recall as many as possible. Chan and her colleagues write, "We found that adults with music training learned significantly more words than those without any. Music training in childhood may therefore have long-term positive effects on verbal memory." However, when researchers gave students tests of visual memory -- asking them to look at simple drawings and then reproduce them from memory -- those with musical training did no better than the rest. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans of the brains of musicians to those of non-musicians showed that a specific region in the left temporal lobe of the brain, which handles memory for words, was larger in musicians than in non-musicians ( Nature , Vol 396, No 6708).

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