Music training causes long-term enhancement of preschool children's spatial-temporal reasoning.

Rauscher, F. H., Shaw, G. L., Levine, L. J., Wright, E. L., Dennis, W. R., & Newcomb, R. L. (1997). Music training causes long-term enhancement of preschool children's spatial-temporal reasoning. Neurological Research, 19, 2-8.

Abstract:

This study examined whether music training improves preschool children’s spatial-temporal reasoning and spatial recognition abilities. The 78 children who participated in the study received private piano lessons, singing lessons, private computer lessons, or no lessons (i.e., the control group). Before and after the training, the children completed one spatial-temporal reasoning test and three spatial recognition tests. Only the group that received piano lessons showed statistically significant increases on the spatial-temporal reasoning test. None of the groups exhibited statistically significant growth on the three spatial recognition tests. The growth displayed by the piano lesson group was more than one standard deviation. The duration of the positive effect on spatial-temporal reasoning for the piano lessons group was one day.

Key Findings:

  • The group of preschool children that received private piano lessons showed statistically significant growth on a spatial-temporal reasoning test while the other groups did not show statistically significant growth on the same measure.
  • The amount of growth shown by the private piano lessons group was large and was equivalent to moving from the 50th percentile to the 85th percentile. Also, the gains for the group that received private piano lessons lasted at least one day after the lessons ended.
  • None of the groups showed statistically significant growth on the three spatial recognition tests the researchers administered.

Significance of the Findings:

The study found that music training had a positive impact on preschool children’s abilities on a spatial-temporal reasoning task. The researchers speculate that the music training results in long-term modifications in underlying neural circuitry.

Methodology:

A total of 78 preschool children took part in the study. The children received private piano lessons (n = 34), singing lessons (n = 10), private computer lessons (n = 20), or received no training (n = 14). Before and after the training, the children were administered one spatial-temporal reasoning test (i.e., Object Assembly) and three spatial recognition tests (i.e., Geometric Design, Block Design, and Animal Pegs) from the Wechsler Preschool and Primary Scale of Intelligence-Revised (WPPSI-R). Change scores were calculated by subtracting the post-test scores from the pre-test scores. One-way ANOVAs and follow-up t-tests were used to determine if the change scores were significantly different across the groups.

Limitations of the Research:

The researchers were not blind to the study’s hypotheses and the preschool children’s treatment conditions as they administered some of the spatial-temporal reasoning and spatial recognition tests. The study’s analyses did not statistically control for the children’s performance on the tests prior to the start of the training. The results did not account for 30 percent of the children who dropped out of the study between pre- and post-tests. Additionally, the study was not controlled to account for demographic characteristics and age. Finally, the study’s sample size was small, which limits the generalizability of the findings.

Questions to Guide New Research:

Are the results of this study replicable with a larger sample size and different age groups? How long do the positive effects of music training last? What are the mechanisms (e.g., modifications in underlying neural circuitry) that mediate the effect of music training and spatial-temporal reasoning?