Another Cognitive Benefit for Musicians, Athletes - Miller-McCune
Can you mentally rotate a three-dimensional object, getting a clear sense of how it looks it from a variety of angles? It’s a specific cognitive skill that has been the subject of much study in recent years, since it’s a key component of processing spatial information. Professionals ranging from auto mechanics to brain surgeons rely on this ability.
A newly published study suggests there may be a way to enhance this important skill, and it does not involve spending hours in front of a computer screen. Rather, it suggests students might want to put down their laptops and pick up a musical instrument, or suit up and take to the sports field.
Two German researchers report student musicians and athletes performed better at a standard mental-rotation task than a group of their peers. Moreover, for musicians, the much-discussed gender gap in this important arena disappeared, with women catching up to men.
Stefanie Pietsch and Petra Jansen of the University of Regensburg Institute of Sport Science report their findings in the journal Learning and Individual Differences.
Their study featured 120 students (60 men and 60 women) enrolled at a German university. One-third of the participants were musicians, one-third athletes, and the final third education students who did not participate in either sports or music. The athletes and musicians reported how many years they have been practicing and how many hours they practiced per week.
The participants then took two tests: one to measure their cognitive processing speed, and a standard mental rotation test, in which they compared configurations of blocks. They were given a “target” image of a three-dimensional structure, and then asked which of four additional images depicted that same structure as seen from a different perspective.
The results were intriguing. For the education students, men gave correct answers at twice the rate of women (a finding that confirms those of previous studies). For athletes, the gap was narrowed; the number of correct answers increased for women but shot up even higher among men, to the point where male athletes had the highest score overall.