In the experiment, published in the May 11 issue of PLoS One, scientists tested 18 musicians and 19 non-musicians (ages 45 to 65) who all had normal hearing. They measured their ability to pick up speech in a noisy place, which becomes harder as you get older, and is a skill that other research has shown to be improved in younger adults (ages 18 to 30) with musical experience.
In addition, scientists evaluated participants auditory and visual working memory after they heard something or saw an image on a computer, and also measured their auditory temporal processing, or how quickly their ears could correctly detect a particular tone at different hearing levels.
Musicians were better able to hear in more challenging noise environments and also had significantly better auditory working memory. Non-musicians could only perform at similar levels in tests of visual working memory.
Researchers were surprised to find in musicians that "the effects on hearing speech in noise, working memory, and temporal processing were strong and not subtle," says neurobiologist Nina Kraus, PhD, director of the auditory neuroscience lab at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., and the study's lead author.
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