The Associations Between Music Training, Musical Working Memory, and Visuospatial Working Memory: An Opportunity for Causal Modeling

Silas, Sebastian; Müllensiefen, Daniel; Gelding, Rebecca; Frieler, Klaus and Harrison, Peter M. C.. 2022. The Associations Between Music Training, Musical Working Memory, and Visuospatial Working Memory: An Opportunity for Causal Modeling. Music Perception, 39(4), pp. 401-420. ISSN 0730-7829 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

Prior research studying the relationship between music training (MT) and more general cognitive faculties, such as visuospatial working memory (VSWM), often fails to include tests of musical memory. This may result in causal pathways between MT and other such variables being misrepresented, potentially explaining certain ambiguous findings in the literature concerning the relationship between MT and executive functions. Here we address this problem using latent variable modeling and causal modeling to study a triplet of variables related to working memory: MT, musical working memory (MWM), and VSWM. The triplet framing allows for the potential application of d-separation (similar to mediation analysis) and V-structure search, which is particularly useful since, in the absence of expensive randomized control trials, it can test causal hypotheses using cross-sectional data. We collected data from 148 participants using a battery of MWM and VSWM tasks as well as a MT questionnaire. Our results suggest: 1) VSWM and MT are unrelated, conditional on MWM; and 2) by implication, there is no far transfer between MT and VSWM without near transfer. However, the data are unable to distinguish an unambiguous causal structure. We conclude by discussing the possibility of extending these models to incorporate more complex or cyclic effects.

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Sebastian Silas has been supported by a doctoral scholarship from the Deutscher Akademischer Austausch Dienst (DAAD; German Academic Exchange Service). Daniel Müllensiefen has been supported by an Anneliese Maier-Research Prize awarded by the Humboldt Foundation. Peter Harrison was supported by a doctoral studentship from the EPSRC and AHRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Media and Arts Technology (EP/L01632X/1).


working memory, causal modeling, music training, musical working memory, visuospatial working memory

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20 November 2021Accepted
1 April 2022Published

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Date Deposited:

21 Apr 2022 10:30

Last Modified:

21 Apr 2022 10:33

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Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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