Music and the Corpus Callosum

Did you know that musicians have a bigger corpus callosum than non-musicians?

The corpus callosum is the part of our brains that connects the right hemisphere to the left. It allows both sides to communicate with each other, and is responsible for eye movement and helping us maintain our balance. It also holds the largest amount of white matter in the brain, which influences how our brains learn and function. Researchers tell us that white matter (wherever it is housed, in the brain or spinal column) is responsible for communication between nerve cells; thus, the corpus callosum is the communicator for the brain.

Current research from Anita Collins suggests that when our students play their instruments, they are working on their fine motor skills. Both parts of our brain are responsible for these fine motor skills. Additionally, as the right side of the brain is responsible for the creative process, while the left side is responsible for our linguistic prowess, musicians use both of these hemispheres simultaneously when they create. Consequently, musicians adapt to these challenges by creating a larger corpus callosum, much the way an athlete would grow his or her muscles.

Taking music lessons can strengthen connections between the two hemispheres of the brain in children, but only if they practice diligently, according to a study reported here 14 April at the annual meeting of the Cognitive Neuroscience Society. The findings add to a long-running debate about the effects of musical training on the brain.

In 1995, a study led by neurologist and neuroscientist Gottfried Schlaug found that professional musicians who started playing before the age of 7 have an unusually thick corpus callosum, the bundle of axons that serves as an information superhighway between the left and right sides of the brain. Schlaug and colleagues saw this as evidence that musical training can bolster neural connections, but skeptics pointed to the possibility that the musicians had bigger corpora callosa to begin with. Perhaps their neural wiring had enhanced their musical pursuits instead of the other way around.

To investigate further, Schlaug, now at Harvard Medical School in Boston, and colleagues including Marie Forgeard and Ellen Winner at Boston College, studied 31 children. The researchers collected detailed magnetic resonance images of the children’s brains at age 6 and again at 9. Of the original group, six children faithfully practiced at least 2.5 hours a week in the time between the scans. In these budding musicians, a region of the corpus callosum that connects movement-planning regions on the two sides of the brain grew about 25% relative to the overall size of the brain. Children who averaged only an hour or two of weekly practice and those who dropped their instruments entirely showed no such growth. All of the children practiced instruments, such as a piano or a violin, that required two hands.

According to Colin Van Hook, studies have shown differences between several structures in the brains of professional level musicians and non-musicians. Professional musicians form an ideal group to study changes in the human brain due to the unique abilities required of them. Since many musicians begin training at a young age, it is assumed that these differences are attributable to intense, early experience brought on by the cognitive and motor demands of music training. However, it remains to be seen whether these structural differences are due to changes brought on by experience or preexisting ones which draw children to music lessons. Using magnetic resonance images, I compared the size of the corpus callosums in two groups of children who ranged between the ages of five and seven, one just beginning music lessons and another not beginning music lessons. I also compared the groups in terms of their performance on a finger tapping test for differences in speed and accuracy. A second set of comparisons of callosal size was conducted between nine-to-eleven- year-olds who had been taking music lessons for at least a year and those who had not. Differences in the five-to-seven-year-olds were seen in the anterior corpus callosum corrected for brain volume between the musician and nonmusician groups. Differences in accuracy of finger tapping were seen between the musicians and non musicians, as well as between those in the musician group who had received less than sixteen or twenty-five weeks of training versus those who had received less. These findings indicate that while musicians start out with at least one slightly larger measure of corpus callosum size, differences in finger skill tend to develop slowly.

SOURCE/s: Collins, A. (2015) “music and cognitive development” / Miller, G. (2008) “Music Builds Bridges in the Brain” / Hook, C. (2004) “The Relationship Between Instrumental Music Training and Corpus Callosum Growth”

MUSIC PSYCHOLOGY RESEARCH

ADVISORY BOARD
Celeste S. Sanchez, MT
Maricel G. Morales, Viva Artist
Shedy Dee C. Mallari, LPT, RPm
Karen M. Atendido, Seiko Artist
Conrado Manuel N. Del Rosario, Maestro
Peter Charles Kutschera, PhD, LMSW
Homer J. Yabut, PhD, RPsy
Alain Bernard A. Andal, MA, LPT, RPm, RGC
Robert Albios, PTR
Atty. Francisco S. Yabut
John Vernon Nuguid, Instructor
Jose Maria G. Pelayo III. MASD


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