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Musicians have Faster Reaction Times

Posted on June 22, 2017, 6 a.m. in Brain and Mental Performance Aging Longevity

Learning how to play a musical instrument may increase reaction times and alertness in aging adults.

A study by the University of Montreal's School of Speech Language Pathology and Audiology states that musicians have a faster reaction to sensory stimuli than do non-musicians. Simon Landry, the lead researcher in this study, was a co-author with François Champoux, an audiology associate professor and Landry's thesis advisor. As part of his biomedical science doctoral thesis, Landry stated that as people age, their reaction times get slower. Playing a musical instrument leads to a faster reaction time. This could prevent some of the effects of aging.

Landry's research interest is in how touch and sound interact and to better understand how playing a musical instrument affects the senses in a way that is not related to music. His study adds to ones previously done that looked at how sensory illusions are processed in musicians' brains.

In this study, Landry compared reaction times by 16 musicians and 19 non-musicians. The musicians were recruited from the University of Montreal's music faculty who began playing between the ages of 3 and 10 and had a minimum of seven years of training. That included three violinists, eight pianists, one harpist, one double bassist, two percussionists, and one viola player. The non-musicians were Speech Language Pathology students. Roughly half of all of them were undergraduates and half were graduates.

The participants sat in a quiet and well-lit room. One hand was on a computer mouse, and the index finger of the other hand was on a small box that vibrated intermittently. They clicked on the mouse when they heard a burst of white noise from speakers, or when the box vibrated, or when both incidents occurred. Each of these three stimulations (tactile, audio, and audio-tactile) happened 180 times. The subjects wore earplugs in order to mask buzzing "audio clues" when the box vibrated.

They found significantly faster reaction times with musicians. Those results suggest for the first time that long-term musical training reduces non-musical auditory, tactile and multi-sensory reaction times.

Landry further said that the more we know and learn about the impact of music on the basic sensory processes, the more we can apply musical instrument training to those individuals who have slower reaction times.

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Simon P. Landry, François Champoux. Musicians react faster and are better multisensory integrators. Brain and Cognition, 2017; 111: 156 DOI: 10.1016/j.bandc.2016.12.001

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