Cortical Thickness Maturation and Duration of Music Training: Health-Promoting Activities Shape Brain Development

Published:September 03, 2014DOI:


      To assess the extent to which playing a musical instrument is associated with cortical thickness development among healthy youths.


      Participants were part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) Study of Normal Brain Development. This study followed a longitudinal design such that participants underwent MRI scanning and behavioral testing on up to 3 separate visits, occurring at 2-year intervals. MRI, IQ, and music training data were available for 232 youths (334 scans), ranging from 6 to 18 years of age. Cortical thickness was regressed against the number of years that each youth had played a musical instrument. Next, thickness was regressed against an “Age × Years of Playing” interaction term. Age, gender, total brain volume, and scanner were controlled for in analyses. Participant ID was entered as a random effect to account for within-person dependence. False discovery rate correction was applied (p ≤ .05).


      There was no association between thickness and years playing a musical instrument. The “Age × Years of Playing” interaction was associated with thickness in motor, premotor, and supplementary motor cortices, as well as prefrontal and parietal cortices. Follow-up analysis revealed that music training was associated with an increased rate of thickness maturation. Results were largely unchanged when IQ and handedness were included as covariates.


      Playing a musical instrument was associated with more rapid cortical thickness maturation within areas implicated in motor planning and coordination, visuospatial ability, and emotion and impulse regulation. However, given the quasi-experimental nature of this study, we cannot rule out the influence of confounding variables.

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