Learning to play a musical instrument in the middle school is associated with superior audiovisual working memory and fluid intelligence: A cross-sectional behavioral study

Lippolis, Mariangela; Müllensiefen, Daniel; Frieler, Klaus; Matarelli, Benedeta; Vuust, Peter; Cassibba, Rosalinda and Brattico, Elvira. 2022. Learning to play a musical instrument in the middle school is associated with superior audiovisual working memory and fluid intelligence: A cross-sectional behavioral study. Frontiers in Psychology, 13, 982704. ISSN 1664-1078 [Article]

fpsyg-13-982704.pdf - Published Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution.

Download (2MB) | Preview

Abstract or Description

Music training, in all its forms, is known to have an impact on behavior both in childhood and even in aging. In the delicate life period of transition from childhood to adulthood, music training might have a special role for behavioral and cognitive maturation. Among the several kinds of music training programs implemented in the educational communities, we focused on instrumental training incorporated in the public middle school curriculum in Italy that includes both individual, group and collective (orchestral) lessons several times a week. At three middle schools, we tested 285 preadolescent children (aged 10–14 years) with a test and questionnaire battery including adaptive tests for visuo-spatial working memory skills (with the Jack and Jill test), fluid intelligence (with a matrix reasoning test) and music-related perceptual and memory abilities (with listening tests). Of these children, 163 belonged to a music curriculum within the school and 122 to a standard curriculum. Significant differences between students of the music and standard curricula were found in both perceptual and cognitive domains, even when controlling for pre-existing individual differences in musical sophistication. The music children attending the third and last grade of middle school had better performance and showed the largest advantage compared to the control group on both audiovisual working memory and fluid intelligence. Furthermore, some gender differences were found for several tests and across groups in favor of females. The present results indicate that learning to play a musical instrument as part of the middle school curriculum represents a resource for preadolescent education. Even though the current evidence is not sufficient to establish the causality of the found effects, it can still guide future research evaluation with longitudinal data.

Item Type:


Identification Number (DOI):


Additional Information:

Data availability statement: The dataset analyzed for this study can be found in the Zenodo digital repository at doi: 10.5281/zenodo.6958523

Funding: Center for Music in the Brain (MIB) covered the costs of consumables and the publication fee of this study. MIB was funded by the Danish National Research Foundation (project number: 117).


music training, cognitive development, audiovisual working memory, musical abilities, music education

Departments, Centres and Research Units:



22 September 2022Accepted
13 October 2022Published

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

20 Oct 2022 11:35

Last Modified:

20 Oct 2022 11:35

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.



View statistics for this item...

Edit Record Edit Record (login required)