Musical Training Enhances “Executive Functions” of Planned Behavior, Cognitive Performance

Jennifer Zuk

Jennifer Zuk

Christopher Benjamin

Christopher Benjamin

Musical training is associated with well-developed “executive functions (EF)” – the cognitive capacities that enable intentional, controlled behavior and strong academic performance, according to Harvard University’s Jennifer Zuk, Christopher Benjamin, Arnold Kenyon, and Nadine Gaab.

“Executive functions (EF)” include:

John Best

John Best

Executive functions are required for academic readiness and long-term achievement, according to University of British Columbia’s John R Best, Patricia H Miller of San Francisco State University, and University of Virginia’s Jack A Naglieri.

Specific activities improve EF skills, even among children:

  • Kimberley Lakes

    Kimberley Lakes

    Martial arts, found University of California, Irvine’s Kimberly D. Lakes and William Hoyt

  • Lisa Flook

    Lisa Flook

    Mindfulness training, shown in research by UCLA’s Lisa Flook, Susan L. Smalley, M. Jennifer Kitil, Brian M. Galla, Susan Kaiser-Greenland, Jill Locke, Eric Ishijima, and Connie Kasari

  • Laura Chaddock-Heyman

    Laura Chaddock-Heyman

    Physical exercise, noted by University of Illinois’s Laura Chaddock, Michelle W Voss, Matt VanPatter, Matthew B. Pontifex, Charles H. Hillman, Arthur Kramer with Kirk I Erickson of University of Pennsylvania and Ohio State’s Ruchika S Prakash.

Individuals with musical training demonstrate enhanced:

  • Lisianne Hoch

    Lisianne Hoch

    Mathematical achievement, found Auckland University of Technology’s Lisianne Hoch and Barbara Tillmann University of Lyon.

Zuk and team compared adult working musicians and non-musicians, as well as children with at least two years of musical training and those with no previous musical training on cognitive ability tests of verbal fluency, mental processing speed, and working memory.

Nadine Gaab

Nadine Gaab

Adult musicians showed enhanced performance on measures of cognitive flexibility, working memory, and verbal fluency, compared to non-musicians.

Children performed a separate mental task while their brains were scanned using fMRI technology, and musically-trained children showed enhanced performance on measures of verbal fluency and cognitive processing speed.

They also showed significantly greater activation in supplementary motor area (SMA), pre-supplementary area (pre-SMA), and ventrolateral prefrontal cortex (VLPFC) during rule representation and task-switching tasks, compared to musically-untrained children.

This research suggests that current trends to eliminate arts programs in public schools could have a negative impact on development of academic achievement and job-related cognitive skills.

By implication, musical training may correlate with strong performance in pre-professional intern experiences and long term job performance, and remains to be verified by researchers and job recruiters.

-*Have you observed a relationship between musical training and on-the-job performance?

-*To what extent do physical exercise, martial arts, and mindfulness training increase cognitive task performance?

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