Preschool music hits a wrong note

A new study assesses the effects of early music education on children’s cognitive development. The researchers conducted two randomised controlled trials (RCTs) with preschool children. The experiments investigated the cognitive effects of a six-week series of 45-minute music classes, as compared to a similar but non-musical form of arts lesson (visual arts, Experiment 1) or to a no-treatment control (Experiment 2).

After the six weeks the children were assessed in four cognitive areas in which older arts-trained pupils have been reported to excel: spatial-navigational reasoning, visual form analysis, numerical discrimination, and receptive vocabulary. The authors initially found that children from the music class showed greater spatial-navigational ability than the children from the visual arts class, while children from the visual arts class showed greater visual form analysis ability than children from the music class (Experiment 1). However, a partial replication attempt comparing music training to a no-treatment control failed to confirm these findings (Experiment 2).

The combined results of the two experiments were negative: overall, children provided with music classes performed no better than those with visual arts or no classes on any assessment. The authors say that their findings underscore the need for replication in RCTs, and suggest caution in interpreting the positive findings from past studies of cognitive effects of music lessons.

Source: Two Randomized Trials Provide No Consistent Evidence for Nonmusical Cognitive Benefits of Brief Preschool Music Enrichment (2013), PLoS ONE, December 2013.

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