Music training is associated with measurable physiologic changes in the auditory pathway. Benefits of music training have also been demonstrated in the areas of working memory, auditory attention, and speech perception in noise. The purpose of this study was to determine whether long-term auditory experience secondary to music training enhances the ability to detect, learn, and recall new words.
Participants consisted of 20 young adult musicians and 20 age-matched non-musicians. In addition to completing word recognition and non-word detection tasks, each participant learned 10 nonsense words in a rapid word-learning task. All tasks were completed in quiet and in multi-talker babble. Next-day retention of the learned words was examined in isolation and in context. Cortical auditory evoked responses to vowel stimuli were recorded to obtain latencies and amplitudes for the N1, P2, and P3a components. Performance was compared across groups and listening conditions. Correlations between the behavioral tasks and the cortical auditory evoked responses were also examined.
No differences were found between groups (musicians vs. non-musicians) on any of the behavioral tasks. Nor did the groups differ in cortical auditory evoked response latencies or amplitudes, with the exception of P2 latencies, which were significantly longer in musicians than in non-musicians. Performance was significantly poorer in babble than in quiet on word recognition and non-word detection, but not on word learning, learned-word retention, or learned-word detection. CAEP latencies collapsed across group were significantly longer and amplitudes were significantly smaller in babble than in quiet. P2 latencies in quiet were positively correlated with word recognition in quiet, while P3a latencies in babble were positively correlated with word recognition and learned-word detection in babble. No other significant correlations were observed between CAEPs and performance on behavioral tasks.
These results indicated that, for young normal-hearing adults, auditory experience resulting from long-term music training did not provide an advantage for learning new information in either favorable (quiet) or unfavorable (babble) listening conditions. Results of the present study suggest that the relationship between music training and the strength of cortical auditory evoked responses may be more complex or too weak to be observed in this population.