Children who play music do better on cognitive tests
The Sector > Research > Children who play music perform better in cognitive assessments, researchers find

Children who play music perform better in cognitive assessments, researchers find

by Freya Lucas

September 07, 2023

Children who play a musical instrument in childhood perform better in cognitive assessment tests than those who never played an instrument in their life, researchers from the Universities of Edinburgh and Edinburgh Napier have found


Their findings suggest a link between musical practice in childhood and improved cognitive ability in later life, and were reached by asking 420 people in their eighties, from the Lothian Birth Cohort 1936, to take tests assessing their processing speed, visuospatial reasoning, communication skills, and verbal memory every three years, between the ages of 70 and 82.


Of these participants, 167 had played a musical instrument in childhood or adolescence, and 39 were still doing so at the age of 82.


This was how the scientists discovered the existence of a small but detectable association between playing an instrument and improved cognitive abilities in later life. The causal link remained true even when other factors were taken into account, such as the volunteers’ cognitive ability at age 11 years, socioeconomic status, levels of education, or physical well-being in adulthood.


For Dr Judith Okely, co-author of the study, the findings are a powerful demonstration of how much learning music can sculpt the brain over the long term. 


“We see these results as an exciting starting point for further investigation into how musical experience from across the life course might contribute to healthy aging,” she said.


The study, funded by Age UK and the Economic and Social Research Council, is published in the journal Psychology and Aging and was a collaboration between researchers in Psychology and Music.

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