Playing musical instrument 'sharpens mind' says St Andrews study

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Playing piano
Image caption,
Musicians were found to be more likely to notice mistakes and fix them quickly

Playing an instrument could sharpen the mind, according to a new study.

Researchers at the University of St Andrews said their findings showed musicians were quicker to pick up mistakes and correct them.

The study adds to previous studies linking musical skills with mental and physical well-being.

The team said their results indicated musical activity could be used to slow, stop or even reverse age and illness-related decline in mental functioning.

The study compared groups of amateur musicians - with varying levels of time they had spent in practicing their instrument - to a non-musician control group.

Researchers then measured each group's behavioural and brain responses to simple mental tests.

'Effective intervention'

The most striking difference came in the musicians' ability to recognise and correct mistakes.

They also responded faster than those with little or no musical training, with no loss in accuracy. The team said this was perhaps not surprising since musicians learn to be constantly aware of their performance, but to not be overly affected by mistakes.

Psychologist Dr Ines Jentzsch, who led the research, said: "Our study shows that even moderate levels of musical activity can benefit brain functioning.

"Our findings could have important implications as the processes involved are amongst the first to be affected by aging, as well as a number of mental illnesses such as depression.

"The research suggests that musical activity could be used as an effective intervention to slow, stop or even reverse age, or illness, related decline in mental functioning."

The study was partly funded by the Wellcome Trust and has been published in the journal Neuropsychologia.

Dr Jentzsch, herself a keen pianist, continued, "Musical activity cannot only immensely enrich our lives but the associated benefits for our physical and mental functioning could be even more far-reaching than proposed in our and previous research."

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