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Musicians have quicker reaction times, study shows, suggesting advantages on road

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John Burger - published on 02/23/17

Musical training from an early age may yield safer drivers, but benefits can accrue even for the elderly

Musicians are trained to not miss a beat, but that training brings with it benefits that go beyond the performance hall.

In fact, musical people have quicker reactions than non-musical people, according to a study published by the University of Montreal in the journal Brain and Cognition.

That reaction time could prove to be life-saving, say, in the case of driving.

The study had 16 lifelong musicians—pianists, violinists, percussionists and cellists—and 19 non-musicians click a computer mouse each time they sensed a vibration or noise. The musicians performed on average 30 percent better than the non-musicians, proving a link between playing an instrument and strong reactions to non-musical stimuli.

“These results suggest for the first time that long-term musical training reduces simple non-musical auditory, tactile and multisensory reaction times,” said doctoral student Simon Landry, lead author of the study. “Reaction times are related to cognitive function. Having faster reaction times could help reacting to something when you’re driving, if your attention is focused on driving, or if your job requires you to react to something quickly.”

Landy suggested there may be a benefit for elderly people, as well: learning an instrument later in life could improve cognitive as well as motor functions.

“As people get older, … we know their reaction times get slower. So if we know that playing a musical instrument increases reaction times, then maybe playing an instrument will be helpful for them,” Landry commented. “The more we know about the impact of music on really basic sensory processes, the more we can apply musical training to individuals who might have slower reaction times.”

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