Music Training Improves Verbal but Not Visual Memory: Cross-Sectional and Longitudinal Explorations in Children

Ho, Y., Cheung, M., & Chan, A. S. & Chang. (2003). Music Training Improves Verbal but Not Visual Memory: Cross-Sectional and Longitudinal Explorations in Children. Neuropsychology, 17(3), 439–450.

Abstract:

The purpose of this research was to find if music training is related to improved verbal memory in children. The research was composed of two studies, a cross sectional study and a longitudinal study. The cross sectional study compared students receiving musical training to their classmates who had not received musical training (a control group). Recall tests were used to assess student verbal memory and visual memory.

Students with music training had significantly better verbal memory than students with no music training, but there was no significant difference between the students in their visual memory. A year later, in a longitudinal study, the researchers compared students from the cross sectional study who continued to receive music training to students who had stopped their training, and to students from the control group who had begun music training. Results showed that students who continued to receive music training and those who began music training showed improved verbal, but not visual memory, compared to students who stopped their music training.

Key Findings:

Students with music training showed better verbal, but not visual memory, than students with no music training. Students who continued to receive music training and those who began music training showed improved verbal, but not visual memory, compared to students who stopped their music training.

Significance of the Findings:

The study demonstrates that there is a relationship between music training and verbal memory. Results also reveal that students who continue music training have greater improvements in verbal memory than students who stopped music training.

Methodology:

In the first study, researchers compared 45 students who were taking music lessons at school (treatment group) to 45 of their classmates who were not taking music lessons (a control group). The students in both groups were similar in age, education level, and socioeconomic characteristics, including parental education levels and family income. Students in both groups were administered the Hong Kong List Learning–Form One to assess their verbal memory and the Brief Visuospatial Memory Test–Revised to assess their visual memory. In the second study, 33 of the 45 students who were taking music lessons and participated in the first study agreed to participate in a follow-up study that took place a year later. Additionally, 17 of the comparison group students from the first study who began taking music lessons were also recruited to participate in the second study. Researchers grouped students based on whether the student continued to take music lessons (n=24), stopped taking music lessons for at least 9 months since the first study (n=9), or began taking music classes since the first study (n=17). The students were once again administered the the Hong Kong List Learning–Form One and the Brief Visuospatial Memory Test—Revised. Data were analyzed using t-tests, analyses of variance, and Pearson correlations.

Limitations of the Research:

The small sample size limits the generalizability of the results. Further, participants were not randomly assigned to the conditions and it is not known if there were differences in verbal or visual memory between the groups prior to the study.

Questions to Guide New Research:

Could the findings from the study be replicated using a random assignment design? Could training in other art forms produce similar results? What aspects of music training have the greatest effect on verbal memory?