Musical Intelligence: not quite what we once thought

By Charlotte Pugh

Research shows that playing a musical instrument does not increase children’s intelligence.

Psychologists have recently reported that the common claims that learning music boosts children’s IQ and improves their performance at school are not true. The evidence that has linked musical children with high achievement within their education can be better explained by the fact that most of these children come from more privileged backgrounds.

Parents of children who take music lessons are more likely to be higher earners, and put their children through a better, higher standard of education and encourage them to participate in a variety of extra-curricular activities. It is likely that this upbringing, and not the music lessons, helps the children develop characteristics such as conscientiousness, which is known to boost mental processes such as memory, learning and reasoning.

Professor Schellenberg investigated whether the link between musical training and intelligence could be explained by two of the key personality traits, conscientiousness and openness to new experiences. During his presentation of the results, he was able to provide evidence that this was the case. He had sufficient and strong evidence to prove that the association between music lessons and intelligence was mainly down to the children’s personalities.

The study by Schellenberg also shows that it was possible to predict how long a child had been taking music lessons based on their answers to a personality questionnaire. What this means is that children who take music lessons have varying types of personalities to those who choose not to take the lessons. The findings that have previously shown links between music and cognition may be an product of individual differences in personality. Most of the data found in these studies can be explained by saying that higher-functioning children take music lessons.

The findings demonstrate that putting children through music lessons for the presumed educational benefit is not helpful at all. It can be concluded that although playing an instrument will not intrinsically improve cognitive ability, playing for enjoyment will certainly have benefits in terms of creativity.

Music Lessons Enhance IQ by E. Glenn Scllenberg

Long-term positive associations between music lessons and IQ by E. Glenn Schellenberg


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