Space & Innovation

Playing an Instrument Could Improve Reaction Time as You Age

In this study, musicians had significantly faster reaction times than non-musicians for different types of stimulations.

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With age comes wisdom, but also slower reaction times and a more difficult time staying alert. Now new research shows that musicians have faster reaction times than non-musicians - and the results could have implications for improving an elderly person's ability to make quick decisions.

The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Montréal's School of Speech Language Pathology and Audiology, compared the reaction times of 16 musicians and 19 non-musicians based on 180 audio, tactile and audio-tactile stimulations. Sitting in a quiet, well-lit room, the participants were asked to click a computer mouse when they heard a sound from the speakers in front of them, or when a small box beneath their non-writing hand vibrated, or when both happened.

Musicians had significantly faster reaction times than non-musicians for all three types of stimulations.

"We found that playing an instrument is more than just listening to sound," Simon Landry, author of the study, told Seeker. "More specifically, it involves touch, which makes sense because musicians must interact with their instrument and be sensitive to how it reacts to their playing it."

Musicians who participated in the study started playing an instrument between the ages of three and ten, and had at least seven years of training. The group included pianists, percussionists, a double bassist, a harpist and a viola player.

"Playing music, which is complex, also improves very basic sensory processes," Landry explained.

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Since musicians have faster reaction times, Landry said it that musical training could help slow down some of the cognitive effects of aging. He said future research must look at the reaction times with older musicians versus non-musicians, as well as reaction times in the elderly following some short-term musical training, compared to no training.

"What we can say now is that musical training seems to have potential to help people with slower reaction times - like the elderly - but this still requires some investigation to know exactly what effects this training would have, as well as the duration of this training and other factors such as instrument," Landry said.

It may be wise to tap your musical prowess.

The study was published in the journal "Brain and Cognition."

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