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Musical training during childhood may influence regional brain growth

An fMRI investigation of the cultural specificity of music memory
This study explored the role of culture in shaping music perception and memory. We tested the hypothesis that listeners demonstrate different patterns of activation associated with music processing—particularly right frontal cortex—when encoding and retrieving culturally familiar and unfamiliar stimuli, with the latter evoking broader activation consistent with more complex memory tasks. Subjects (n = 16) were right-handed adults born and raised in the USA (n = 8) or Turkey (n = 8) with minimal music training. Using fMRI procedures, we scanned subjects during two tasks: (i) listening to novel musical examples from their own culture and an unfamiliar culture and (ii) identifying which among a series of brief excerpts were taken from the longer examples. Both groups were more successful remembering music of their home culture. We found greater activation for culturally unfamiliar music listening in the left cerebellar region, right angular gyrus, posterior precuneus and right middle frontal area extending into the inferior frontal cortex. Subjects demonstrated greater activation in the cingulate gyrus and right lingual gyrus when engaged in recall of culturally unfamiliar music. This study provides evidence for the influence of culture on music perception and memory performance at both a behavioral and neurological level.

Keywords: music memory, cross-cultural music, enculturation

8 MAY 2001
PHILADELPHIA, PA ­ Research has revealed significant differences in the gray matter distribution between professional musicians trained at an early age and non-musicians, as presented today at the American Academy of Neurology's 53rd Annual Meeting in Philadelphia, PA. The musicians in the study had more relative gray matter volume in left and right primary sensorimotor regions, the left more than the right intraparietal sulcus region, the left basal ganglia region and the left posterior perisylvian region, with pronounced differences also seen in the cerebellum bilaterally.

brain and music and neuroscience

"We were interested to know whether intense environmental demands such as musical training at an early age influenced actual brain growth and development," comments study leader Gottfried Schlaug, MD, PhD. Results of this cross-sectional study may indicate use-dependent brain growth or structural plasticity of gray matter volume in response to such demands during a critical period of brain maturation. "An alternative explanation may be that these musicians were born with these differences, which may draw them toward their musical gifts." Fifteen male professional musicians and 15 age and gender matched non-musicians were included in the study conducted by neurologist Schlaug and Gaser Christian, PhD, of Germany, at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston. Using a magnetic resonance imaging sequence, they compared high resolution anatomical datasets of the professional musicians' and non-musicians' brains on a voxel-by-voxel basis using SPM99 software.

"Musicians typically commence training at an early age, making them ideal subjects for this type of investigation," notes Schlaug. These presumed cerebral adaptations may not only lead to modifications of functional sensory
and motor maps, but may also lead to structural adaptations within the sensorimotor system.

"However," Schlaug concludes, "additional study is necessary to confirm causal relationships between intense motor training for a long period of time and structural changes in motor and non-motor related brain regions." Schlaug is continuing this study to identify areas of the brain that are different, and to determine if training and experience create the differences.

A neurologist is a medical doctor with specialized training in diagnosing, treating and managing disorders of the brain and nervous system.

The American Academy of Neurology, an association of more than 17,000
neurologists and neuroscience professionals, is dedicated to improving patient care through education and research.

For more information about the American Academy of Neurology, visit its web site at

For more information contact:
Kathy Stone, 651-695-2763
May 5-11, 215-418-2420

Editor's Note: Study author Gottfried Schlaug, MD, PhD,

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