A new study published in Human Brain Mapping revealed that long-term musical training can modify the connectivity networks in the brain’s white matter.
Previous research has shown that intense musical training induces structural neuroplasticity in different brain regions. However, previous studies mainly investigated brain changes in instrumental musicians, and little is known about how structural connectivity in non-instrumental musicians is affected by long-term training.
To examine how the connections between different parts of the brain might be affected by long-term vocal training, the researchers of the study used graph theory and diffusion-weighted images. Graph theory is a mathematical framework used to study the networks’ architecture in the human brain, while diffusion-weighted imaging is an MRI technique that measures the diffusion of water molecules in tissues, providing information on the structural connectivity of the brain.
The researchers hypothesized that “intense musical practice that involves the interpretation of emotions could strengthen the connectivity between brain regions related to emotional expression and motor control.” Moreover, they expected to see differences in connectivity between professional singers and instrumental musicians.
The study involved 95 participants between vocalists (35), instrumental musicians (27), and non-musicians (33) and suggested that musical training can alter white matter connectivity networks in an experience-dependent manner, strengthening connections among emotion-related regions of the brain.
In fact, musical training can help people to comprehend and evaluate the emotions behind the music. An important structure of the brain that helps us in the processing emotion-related information is the amygdala, that was found to be highly interconnected with other brain regions in vocalists and pianists.
It was also found that training specific music-related skills can reshape the structural organization of experience-dependent networks. For example, the intensive practice of singing skills can change brain circuit organization involved in the regulation of vocal pitch.
While the researchers acknowledge that they could not have determined if structural changes were experience or genetic-dependent, and gender might have biased their results, the study provides insights into how musical training affects the brain and gives us a better understanding of how art education and aesthetics are related to neuroscience. Further research is needed to better understand “the causal relationship between long-term musical training and structural changes.”
The study, “Long-term musical training induces white matter plasticity in emotion and language networks“, was authored by Li-Kai Cheng, Yu-Hsien Chiu, Ying-Chia Lin, Wei-Chi Li, Tzu-Yi Hong, Ching-Ju Yang, Chung-Heng Shih, Tzu-Chen Yeh, Wen-Yih Isaac Tseng, Hsin-Yen Yu, Jen-Chuen Hsieh, and Li-Fen Chen.