Use of Music to Impact Cognitive Function

For many years, researchers have shown interest in the relationship between music and learning. There are studies like that of Hall (1952) that indicate music can enhance cognitive abilities, as quoted in Harmon et al. (2008). Nevertheless, Harmon et al. (2008) also acknowledge that studies like that of Fogelson (1973) indicating music can interfere with complex cognitive processes but not simple ones. In any case, researchers in 2004 determined that there was a relationship between certain types of music and learning. I can confirm, from personal experiences, that music interferes with my concentration and subsequent understanding of literary material. Such interference depends on the type of music playing in the background as I study.

As per the sentiments expressed by Miendlarzewska and Trist (2014), neuroscientific research demonstrates the positive effects of musical training on brain development. Such is highlighted by neuroimaging that reveals plastic changes in adult musicians’ brains. The authors in this situation are of the view that the benefits of musical training are beyond the skills such training aims at developing. Such benefits are also shown to last well into adulthood. For instance, better verbal memory, reading ability, executive functions, and accuracy of second language pronunciation, are all associated with musical training among children. More so, the ease with which a child learns to play a musical instrument has been used to project IQ and academic performance in young adulthood. There are observable structural and functional adaptations in the brain that are reported to correlate with the practice intensity and duration. The timing of musical initiation also determines the effects of training on cognitive development owing to sensitive periods during development. The dominant idea in Miendlarzewska and Trist (2014)’s research is that musical training determines heightened sound sensitivity and enhances general reasoning skills and verbal abilities. The influence of music training on cognitive functions is majorly associated with how listening to music demands particular perceptual abilities. Some of them are selective attention for perceiving the temporal and harmonic music structure, auditory memory, and pitch discrimination. The massive demands of musical training essentially impact on the attentional and executive functions of the brain.

The other dimension through which the effects of music on the brain are perceived is the role background music plays in learning. Bottiroli et al. (2014)’s definition of background music is any music played while the attention of the listener is focused on another task. The arousal mood hypothesis presumes that the positive influence of music on human behaviour is a consequence of how music impacts on mood and arousal. The extent of physiological activation, mood, and enjoyment are determined by listening to music, with the consequence reflecting on cognitive performance. The tempo of the music, whether slow or fast, and the mode, either major or minus, affect the listener’s arousal and mood, respectively. Bottiroli et al. (2014) observe that music that is fast tempo and major mode induces a positive mood and higher levels of arousal. On the contrary, slow tempo and minor mode music induces a sad mood and lower arousal levels. The benefits realized are often related to tasks that rely on processing speed and visuo-spatial capabilities. Applying my personal experiences, cramming capabilities are heightened when I listen to fast tempo music like rock. Therefore, in studying for social sciences exams, listening to such music enhances my comprehension capabilities. Such influence of music has been popularly branded the Mozart effect, where the processing speed performance is the centre of focus.

Nevertheless, for multimedia learning, mathematics, and surgery, Bottiroli et al. (2014) discovers background music effects related to disturbance and interference. The cognitive-capacity hypothesis explains such negative findings. Specifically, the hypothesis purports that there is a limited pool of resources available for cognitive processing at any given time. Therefore, the potential for interference from background music disrupts cognitive tasks because there is overtax of resources. It is the task complexity that is also highlighted as playing a significant role in the occurrence of such negative influences. More complex and demanding tasks are associated with stronger detrimental effects of music. Even so, the cognitive functioning is considered more enhanced when there is background music than in situations of silence and white noise.

The last argument on the relationship between music and cognitive functioning is that presented by Schellenberg (2005). The scholars sentiments relates to music-aptitude tests and auditory tasks. Their perspective is that the skills music-aptitude tests require for good performance are also useful in auditory tasks. Phonemic awareness, for instance, requires the perception of segmental units making up words. Hence, the ability of an individual to acquire a second language has an association with music aptitude. It thus follows that the keenness of an individual to sounds in music training can reflect their ability to capture the phonemic differences in language grasping. The discrimination abilities related to basic pitch and tempo thus correlate with intelligence.

In conclusion, research observes significant influence of music on the cognitive functions of an individual. Background music can be beneficial to reading and comprehension, depending on the tempo and mode of such music. Even so, music can also act as interference or disturbance to learning, especially when an individual is performing highly demanding cognitive tasks. Music training is also seen to be associated with the academic capabilities of individuals in many forms, touching on intelligence, IQ, phonemics, and the transfer of music aptitudes to academics.

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