Music and IQ

Music and IQ… Lauren’s reading group report

The first official meeting of EMPRes focused on the broad topic of Music and IQ, with the 2011 paper by Moreno et al. serving as the starting point of a stimulating debate. Attendees originated from a wide array of fields, including psycholinguistics, musicology, and genetics, which provided a range of perspectives on the selected text to enhanced our collective understanding of the field.

The session began with a review of previous papers relating to transfer effects of musical training, including relationships to:

  •  listening skill (Corrigall & Trainor, 2006)
  •  linguistic ability (Chan et al., 1998)
  •  working memory (Lee et al., 2007)
  •  mathematical ability (Graziano et al., 1999)

The major confound of the field was pinpointed to the issue of selection bias. In response to this, Schellenberg’s contribution was raised, notably his 2004 paper comprising of random allocation of children to music or drama training programmes, serving as the background against which to discuss Moreno et al. (2011).

Although the use of pseudo-random allocation of participants into groups in this study was noted, several questions were raised regarding the experimental design. These fell into three broad categories:

  1.  The nature of the training provided in the art and music programmes
  2.  The measure of IQ
  3.  Executive function

The nature of training provided in the art and music programmes

The main issue raised here was the mystery surrounding what was actually taught in these music and art programmes. It was mentioned that the sessions were teacher-led, leading to questions about the consistency of the teaching and the techniques employed in different classes. From examination of the further materials available for this study, the musical sessions were implied to be more of an interactive experience than the art sessions, which sounded more to rely more on teaching by instruction. Access to the actual programmes could resolve this question.

The measure of learning was also questioned, as the only check that children had improved in the area in which they received training appeared to be a teacher’s evaluation which every child was stated to have passed. Greater detail of this assessment would have been valuable. However, it was noted that all children put on a concert or exhibition at the end of the study, and therefore some skill had been ascertained.

The measure of IQ

A primary concern regarding this study was early on identified as being due to the use of only two subtests from which to infer IQ, and specifically no linguistic test apart from the vocabulary test. Since musical training evidently does not directly provide a child with new words, this was considered a surprising choice (although it was acknowledged that this is one of the core subtests). It was suggested that a very short linguistic fluency task would have greatly strengthened the weight of the findings if this corroborated the linguistic enhancement found in the vocabulary test. Furthermore, as the vocabulary enrichment could only be an indirect effect of musical training, what it was that might mediate the findings was considered. Suggestions included:

  •  recall of information
  •  access to stored information
  •  analytical listening
  •  neural synchronicity
  •  general sound processing

Executive function

Finally, the executive function task was considered. Discussion of the fact that the task was exploring the ability to inhibit a primed ‘yes’ (or ‘go’) response was useful, due to uncertainty about the concept of executive function. Given this new understanding, the question of validity of only using the ‘go’ trials (i.e. the trials that do not require inhibition and are therefore not measuring executive control) when measuring response times was raised. The link drawn between executive function enhancement and the P2 signal amplitude was also queried, due to the leap of relating auditory to these vision induced findings. This was, however, defended through the notion of multisensory integration.

To conclude, the publishing bias for IQ studies was noted with caution, alongside a discussion of the effect sizes reported. The continual search for connections between music and other skill enhancements was considered, and the necessity to check for musical skill improvement before looking for correlations was agreed to be essential.







About Nikki

Nikki is Senior Lecturer in Music at Edinburgh University.
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