Tuning the mind: Exploring the connections between musical ability and executive functions

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Slevc, L. Robert
Davey, Nicholas S.
Buschkuehl, Martin
Jaeggi, Susanne M.
Slevc, L. R., Davey, N. S., Buschkuehl, M., & Jaeggi, S. M. (2016). Tuning the mind: Exploring the connections between musical ability and Executive Functions. Cognition, 152, 199-211.
A growing body of research suggests that musical experience and ability are related to a variety of cognitive abilities, including executive functioning (EF). However, it is not yet clear if these relationships are limited to specific components of EF, limited to auditory tasks, or reflect very general cognitive advantages. This study investigated the existence and generality of the relationship between musical ability and EFs by evaluating the musical experience and ability of a large group of participants and investigating whether this predicts individual differences on three different components of EF – inhibition, updating, and switching – in both auditory and visual modalities. Musical ability predicted better performance on both auditory and visual updating tasks, even when controlling for a variety of potential confounds (age, handedness, bilingualism, and socio-economic status). However, musical ability was not clearly related to inhibitory control and was unrelated to switching performance. These data thus show that cognitive advantages associated with musical ability are not limited to auditory processes, but are limited to specific aspects of EF. This supports a process-specific (but modality-general) relationship between musical ability and non-musical aspects of cognition.