The Relationship between the Performing Arts and CognitionAs a complement to the recent post concerning how studying the visual arts can help build critical thinking skills, I'd like to note some newly published research looking at the relationship between participation in the performing arts and cognitive development.
The research team was funded over the past three years by the Dana Foundation, "a private philanthropy with principal interests in brain science, immunology, and arts education." The researchers' mission was to investigate
the question of why arts training has been associated with higher academic performance. Is it simply that smart people are drawn to “do” art to study and perform music, dance, drama or does early arts training cause changes in the brain that enhance other important aspects of cognition? [source]The results obtained so far are still in the realm of correlations, as opposed to cause-and-effect relationships, but the correlations are generally tighter than prior to this concentrated research effort.
Michael S. Gazzaniga (UC-Santa Barbara) summarizes the team's findings as follows [source]:
- An interest in a performing art leads to a high state of motivation that produces the sustained attention necessary to improve performance and the training of attention that leads to improvement in other domains of cognition.
- Genetic studies have begun to yield candidate genes that may help explain individual differences in interest in the arts.
- Specific links exist between high levels of music training and the ability to manipulate information in both working and long-term memory; these links extend beyond the domain of music training.
- In children, there appear to be specific links between the practice of music and skills in geometrical representation, though not in other forms of numerical representation.
- Correlations exist between music training and both reading acquisition and sequence learning. One of the central predictors of early literacy, phonological awareness, is correlated with both music training and the development of a specific brain pathway.
- Training in acting appears to lead to memory improvement through the learning of general skills for manipulating semantic information.
- Adult self-reported interest in aesthetics is related to a temperamental factor of openness, which in turn is influenced by dopamine-related genes.
- Learning to dance by effective observation is closely related to learning by physical practice, both in the level of achievement and also the neural substrates that support the organization of complex actions. Effective observational learning may transfer to other cognitive skills.