JAN 19, 2017 3:31 AM PST

Playing an Instrument Improves Reaction Time

There are many benefits to learning to play an instrument. Studies have shown that children do better in school if they play an instrument, and playing an instrument helps older people stay mentally sharp. Another benefit appears to be that reaction times are faster among those who have learned to play a musical instrument. New research, conducted by a team at the by Université de Montréal’s School of Speech Language Pathology and Audiology, part of UdeM’s medical facility, shows that people who can play a musical instrument are quicker to react to certain stimuli. Since as we age, reaction times slow down, the study results could mean that playing an instrument has anti-aging benefits as well. 

Simon Landry, the lead researcher on the project stated, “The more we know about the impact of music on really basic sensory processes, the more we can apply musical training to individuals who might have slower reaction time. As people get older, for example, we know their reaction times get slower. So if we know that playing a musical instrument increases reaction times, then maybe playing an instrument will be helpful for them.” Landry conducted the research part of his doctoral thesis in biomedical science.

The study involved two groups of partipants. 16 volunteers were accomplished musicians and the other group was composed of 19 people who had no musical training. Each volunteer took a turn listening to and feeling sensory input. Landry and his team used a computer mouse that the participants would place one hand on. Their other hand was on a box that would randomly vibrate. The study subjects were asked to click the mouse when they felt the box under one hand vibrate, when they heard a burst of white noise from speakers in front of them or when both sensory inputs, the vibration and the sound, happened. The mouse was connected to a timing device that measured reaction time.

To make sure there were no interfering noises or distractions, the volunteers wore earplugs since the vibrating box would also make noise just before it went off. They could still hear the noise coming from the speakers however. A total of three stimulations were used, audio, tactile, and a combination of both. Each volunteer was put through a random series of these stimuli 180 different times.

In the concusion of the study Landry wrote, “We found significantly faster reaction times with musicians for auditory, tactile and audio-tactile stimulations. These results suggest for the first time that long-term musical training reduces simple non-musical auditory, tactile and multisensory reaction times.”

More research is needed to find out specifically what impact playing an instrument might have on the brain. The musicians in this study came from the University’s music department faculty. They had all started played between the ages of 3 and 10, had at least 7 years of training and all but one played proficiently on more than one instrument. The non-musicians were students at the University’s School of Speech Language Pathology. In both groups half were undergraduates and half were graduate students. The results are a first step in seeing how playing an instrument can speed up reaction time and perhaps even slow down aging. Take a look at the video below to learn more.

Sources: University of Montreal, Real Simple  Brain and Cognition

About the Author
  • I'm a writer living in the Boston area. My interests include cancer research, cardiology and neuroscience. I want to be part of using the Internet and social media to educate professionals and patients in a collaborative environment.
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