Fun_People Archive
25 Mar
Music as Muscle-Builder for the Brain

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From: Peter Langston <psl>
Date: Thu, 25 Mar 99 12:50:54 -0800
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Subject: Music as Muscle-Builder for the Brain

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	Music as Muscle-Builder for the Brain
Scientists have found new evidence for the so-called "Mozart effect"--the
phenomenon that music can enhance some mathematical abilities. The
results appear in the current issue of Neurological Research.

In earlier studies, Gordon Shaw and colleagues at the University of
California, Irvine, showed that listening to a Mozart two-piano sonata
briefly improved the spatial skills of college students. Later, they found
that piano lessons achieved a longer term effect, lasting at least several
days, on the spatial skills of preschoolers. In the new study, Shaw
compared two groups of Los Angeles second-graders: 26 got piano
instruction plus a new math video game, which trains players in skills
such as mental rotation of shapes and spatial exercises that teach ratios
and fractions. Another 29 got computer-based English training plus the
video game, and a control group of 28 got no special training. After 4
months, the results were "dramatic," the authors report. The piano group
scored 15% higher than the English group in a test of what they had
learned in the computer game--and 27% higher on the questions devoted to
fractions and proportional math. These gains were on top of the finding
that the computer game alone boosted scores by 36% over the control group.

Shaw, a physicist by training, says the improvements are in keeping with
the theory that the spatial awareness and the need to think several steps
ahead that are required in keyboard lessons "enhance"--or
reinforce--latent neuronal patterns. "Music is just tapping into this
internal neural structure that we're born with," he says.

Michael Merzenich, a neuroanatomist at the University of California, San
Francisco, says Shaw's findings are in line with existing evidence that
"you can modify [cortical activity] as a function of practice."
Nonetheless, he agrees with Shaw that music (at least Mozart) appears to
serve as nonspecific conditioning in spatial reasoning for the brain--much
as muscle-building is a general conditioner for an athlete. Music may be a
"skill ... more fundamental than language" for refining the ability of the
brain to make spatial and temporal distinctions, says Merzenich.

Shaw's work has already inspired a following among day-care facilities in
several states that are now supplying music and drumming for their
charges. Although there's no scientific proof that just listening to
classical music improves brain development, it's good for the music
business, says Merzenich: "They're selling a lot of Mozart CDs to

(c) 1999 by the American Association for the Advancement of Science

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