Monday, December 10, 2012

Musical training & hearing in the elderly

Blog Post 2
Listening in a Crowd: How Musical Training Aids Older Adults

Musical training may help aid the elderly in separating distinct sounds. A new study built on prior research findings that showed neural changes in musicians. The new study looked at how musical training influences age-related changes in auditory processes. The researchers used two groups of elderly adults (a group of musicians and a group of non-musicians) and two groups of younger adults (a group of musicians and a group of non-musicians). They recorded and used event-related potentials to measure how the brain responds to concurrent sounds. All groups listened to computer generated buzzers made up of multiple harmonics. If the frequencies of all the harmonics were mathematically related, such as the harmonic produced by a single piano note, participants heard a single buzz-like sound. If one of the harmonics was mistuned, participants heard the mistuned harmonic as a distinct sound similar to a tuning fork, in addition to the buzz-like sound.

Results showed that musicians (both older and younger) were more likely to hear two distinct sounds when the second harmonic was mistuned by 2% or more. Researchers also observed a brain wave called an object-related negativity (ORN) in association with the perception of two distinct sounds. The brains of the younger musicians automatically detected the presence of the mistuned harmonic better than any other group, with the ORN the largest and occurring the earliest compared to the other groups. The older musicians relied on a second, non-reflexive neural process to detect the second sound at the same level as the younger musicians. Scientist Claude Alain explains, “We think of it as that musical training does not affect hearing in the ear level but rather how older individuals listen to sounds in the brain”, making them better listeners. As a result, researchers say musical training can make you a better listener not just for musical sounds but also for other types of sounds or in other situations like a cocktail party.

Article found at:

For the published study see:
Zendel, Benjamin Rich and Alain, Claude. “The Influence of Lifelong Musicianship on Neurophysiological Measures of Concurrent Sound Segregation.” Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience (2012). Web. 19 Nov. 2012.

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