Do Musicians Have Higher IQs Than Non-Musicians? Yes, Says Study
    By News Staff | October 2nd 2008 03:52 PM | 7 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    A new study has concluded that musicians have IQ scores than non-musicians, supporting other recent research that intensive musical training is associated with an elevated IQ score.

    Vanderbilt University psychologists Crystal Gibson, Bradley Folley and Sohee Park have found that professionally trained musicians more effectively use a creative technique called divergent thinking, and also use both the left and the right sides of their frontal cortex more heavily than the average person.

    One possible explanation the researchers offer for the musicians' elevated use of both brain hemispheres is that many musicians must be able to use both hands independently to play their instruments.

    "We were interested in how individuals who are naturally creative look at problems that are best solved by thinking 'out of the box'," Folley said. "We studied musicians because creative thinking is part of their daily experience, and we found that there were qualitative differences in the types of answers they gave to problems and in their associated brain activity."

    Previous studies of creativity have focused on divergent thinking, which is the ability to come up with new solutions to open-ended, multifaceted problems. Highly creative individuals often display more divergent thinking than their less creative counterparts.

    "Musicians may be particularly good at efficiently accessing and integrating competing information from both hemispheres," Folley said. "Instrumental musicians often integrate different melodic lines with both hands into a single musical piece, and they have to be very good at simultaneously reading the musical symbols, which are like left-hemisphere-based language, and integrating the written music with their own interpretation, which has been linked to the right hemisphere."

    To conduct the study, the researchers recruited 20 classical music students from the Vanderbilt Blair School of Music and 20 non-musicians from a Vanderbilt introductory psychology course. The musicians each had at least eight years of training. The instruments they played included the piano, woodwind, string and percussion instruments. The groups were matched based on age, gender, education, sex, high school grades and SAT scores.

    The researchers conducted two experiments to compare the creative thinking processes of the musicians and the control subjects. In the first experiment, the researchers showed the research subjects a variety of household objects and asked them to make up new functions for them, and also gave them a written word association test. The musicians gave more correct responses than non-musicians on the word association test, which the researchers believe may be attributed to enhanced verbal ability among musicians. The musicians also suggested more novel uses for the household objects than their non-musical counterparts.

    In the second experiment, the two groups again were asked to identify new uses for everyday objects as well as to perform a basic control task while the activity in their prefrontal lobes was monitored using a brain scanning technique called near-infrared spectroscopy, or NIRS. NIRS measures changes in blood oxygenation in the cortex while an individual is performing a cognitive task.

    "When we measured subjects' prefrontal cortical activity while completing the alternate uses task, we found that trained musicians had greater activity in both sides of their frontal lobes. Because we equated musicians and non-musicians in terms of their performance, this finding was not simply due to the musicians inventing more uses; there seems to be a qualitative difference in how they think about this information," Folley said.

    The research is currently in press at the journal Brain and Cognition.


    Great article, thanks.

    Makes me a little bit prouder of being a musician

    I always knew it, deep down. I could never learn any instruments. I'm so jealous of you smarty pantses.
    Steve Davis
    Clearly intelligence can be nurtured and improved, but not only by learning music. I think that teaching kids to read and write actually increases intelligence, in exactly the same way that learning music does but perhaps not as effectively. But that increased intelligence will be wasted, perhaps even misused, if the child is not also taught how to think logically. It should be a standard exercise in high schools, for students to be given a copy of a national daily paper and told, "Pick out the lies!"
    It should be a standard exercise in high schools, for students to be given a copy of a national daily paper and told, "Pick out the lies!"
    Too liberal. Not enough science.

    Teach them chemistry.
    Teach them metallurgy.
    Teach them metalwork and woodwork.
    Teach them how to combine these skills to make something useful.

    Now take them to Parliament with their home-made muskets and tell them to pick out the liars.
    Steve Davis
    A very good point Patrick, but unfortunately the liars outside Parliament would get escape our righteous retribution! 
    @ Patrick,
    I don't think Steve Davis was saying that ONLY logic should be taught. How is teaching everyone to be an engineer going to make Parliament any better? I don't see how being able to discern rhetoric is useless in comparison to being a metallurgical engineer, especially when it comes to Parliament. P.S. I'm a welding engineer, as irony would have it.