Intellectual development

intellectual development 

One of the first studies to consider the role of music in children’s intellectual development was undertaken by Hurwitz et al. (1975). First-grade children were assigned to one of two groups. An experimental group received Kodaly music lessons for five days each week for seven months, a control group did not. At the end of the study, the experimental group scored significantly higher than the control group on three of five sequencing tasks and four of five spatial tasks. No statistically significant differences were found for verbal measures, although the children in the experimental group had higher reading achievement scores than those in the control group which were maintained after two academic years.

During the 1990s there was a resurgence of interest in these issues which had as a particular focus the impact of active engagement with music on spatial reasoning, an element of intelligence tests. In a typical study, Rauscher et al. (1997) assigned children from three preschool groups to music, computer or no-instruction groups. The instruction groups received tuition in keyboard and group singing, group singing alone or computer lessons. Singing was for 30 minutes daily. The children in the keyboard group scored significantly higher in the spatial recognition test. Since then, several studies have confirmed that active engagement with music has an impact on visual-spatial intelligence (Gromko and Poorman, 1998; Bilhartz et al, 2000; Graziano et al., 1999; Orsmond and Miller, 1999; Rauscher and Zupan, 2000; Rauscher, 2002; Costa-Giomi, 1999). A review of 15 studies Hetland (2000) found a ‘strong and reliable’ relationship and concluded that music instruction leads to dramatic improvements in performance on spatial-temporal measures. She commented on the consistency of the effects and likened them to differences of one inch in height or about 84 points on the SAT (p 221). The consistency of these findings suggests a near transfer, automated effect perhaps related to the skills acquired in learning to read music.

Other research has focused on more general manifestations of intelligence. Bilhartz et al. (2000) studied the relationship between participation in a structured music curriculum and cognitive development in 4-6 year olds. Half of the children participated in a 30 week 75 minute weekly parent-involved music curriculum. Following this, children were tested with 6 sub-tests of the Stanford-Binet intelligence test and the Young Child Music Skills Assessment test. There were significant gains for the music group on the music test and the Stanford-Binet Bead Memory subtest. Adopting a cross sectional approach, Schlaug et al. (2005) compared 9-11 year old instrumentalists with an average of 4 years training with controls. They showed that the instrumental group performed significantly better than the control group on musical audiation, left hand index finger tapping rate, and the vocabulary subtest of the WISC-III. Strong non-significant trends were seen in the phonemic awareness test, Raven’s Progressive Matrices, and the Key Math test. Schellenberg (2004) randomly assigned a large sample of children to four different groups, two of which received music lessons (standard keyboard, Kodaly voice) for a year, the control groups receiving instruction in a non-musical artistic activity (drama) or no lessons. All four groups exhibited increases in IQ as would be expected over the time period but the music groups had reliably larger increases in full scale IQ with an effect size of .35. Children in the control groups had average increases of 4.3 points while the music groups had increases of 7 points. On all but 2 of the 12 subtests the music group had larger increases than control groups. Catterall and Rauscher (2008) argue that the gains seen in more general IQ are likely to be the result of specific gains in visual-spatial intelligence but there may also be effects related to enhanced development of language and literacy skills.

A key issue arising from this research is what kinds of musical activity bring about change in particular kinds of intellectual development and why. The research reported above has been based on children’s participation in a variety of musical activities, some offering a broad musical education, others focused more closely on instrumental tuition. To begin to address these questions, Rauscher et al. (2007) explored the impact of different types of musical activity in at risk preschool children. Five groups received piano, singing, rhythm, computer or no instruction for two years. The three music groups scored higher following instruction than the control groups on mental imagery tasks but the scores of the rhythm group were significantly higher than all other groups on tasks requiring temporal cognition and mathematical ability. The findings from this study suggest that it is rhythmic training which is important for the development of temporal cognition and mathematics (see Rauscher, 2009 14 for further discussion), while developing enhanced perceptual skills in relation to pitch and melody supports language development, although rhythm emerges as important in relation to literacy. Overall, taking these findings together it would appear that active engagement with making music can have an impact on intellectual development. What requires further research is the specific types of musical participation which develop skills which transfer automatically to other areas and what are the common features of these skills.

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