Original Research ARTICLE

Front. Psychol., 06 December 2013 | doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00855

High school music classes enhance the neural processing of speech

  • 1Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, USA
  • 2Department of Communication Sciences, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, USA
  • 3Bilingualism and Psycholinguistics Research Group, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, USA
  • 4Walter Payton College Preparatory High School, Chicago, IL, USA
  • 5Institute for Neuroscience, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, USA
  • 6Department of Neurobiology and Physiology, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, USA
  • 7Department of Otolaryngology, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, USA

Should music be a priority in public education? One argument for teaching music in school is that private music instruction relates to enhanced language abilities and neural function. However, the directionality of this relationship is unclear and it is unknown whether school-based music training can produce these enhancements. Here we show that 2 years of group music classes in high school enhance the neural encoding of speech. To tease apart the relationships between music and neural function, we tested high school students participating in either music or fitness-based training. These groups were matched at the onset of training on neural timing, reading ability, and IQ. Auditory brainstem responses were collected to a synthesized speech sound presented in background noise. After 2 years of training, the neural responses of the music training group were earlier than at pre-training, while the neural timing of students in the fitness training group was unchanged. These results represent the strongest evidence to date that in-school music education can cause enhanced speech encoding. The neural benefits of musical training are, therefore, not limited to expensive private instruction early in childhood but can be elicited by cost-effective group instruction during adolescence.

Keywords: hearing, training, music, brainstem, auditory perception

Citation: Tierney A, Krizman J, Skoe E, Johnston K and Kraus N (2013) High school music classes enhance the neural processing of speech. Front. Psychol. 4:855. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00855

Received: 26 June 2013; Accepted: 28 October 2013;
Published online: 06 December 2013.

Edited by:

Layne Kalbfleisch, George Mason University, USA

Reviewed by:

Eamonn Kelly, George Mason University, USA
Min Liu, University of Hawaii at Manoa, USA
Vesa Juhani Putkinen, University of Helsinki, Finland
Lawrence Mitchell Parsons, University of Sheffield, UK

Copyright © 2013 Tierney, Krizman, Skoe, Johnston and Kraus. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) or licensor are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

*Correspondence: Nina Kraus, Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory, Northwestern University, 2240 Campus Drive, Evanston, IL 60208, USA e-mail: nkraus@northwestern.edu

Present address: Erika Skoe, Department of Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences, University of Connecticut, Storrs, CT, USA; Department of Psychology, University of Connecticut, Storrs, CT, USA; Cognitive Science Program, University of Connecticut, Storrs, CT, USA.

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