Recently released research by Simon Landry and François Champoux at the University of Montreal has found that musicians respond faster to sensory stimuli than non-musicians. Landry, the lead researcher, set about comparing the reaction times of 16 musicians (all with at least seven years of training) and 19 non-musicians. He measured audio, tactile and audio-tactile stimulations.
The methodology was to sit the subjects in a quiet room in front of a pair of speakers, with one hand on a computer mouse, and the other on a small box that intermittently vibrated. They were then required to click the mouse when: they heard a sound from the speakers (audio); the box vibrated (tactile); or when both things simultaneously occurred (audio-tactile). The tests were each performed 180 times.
The results showed the musicians’ reaction times to be significantly faster. Landry sees the obvious benefits of being a musician. He concludes that music could be a way to assist people with slow reaction times, and that playing an instrument in older age when reaction times are naturally slowing, could be extremely helpful.
Landry is keen to continue studying how playing a musical instrument has non-musical benefits. Also, it would be interesting to now compare musicians’ reaction times with other groups, say Formula 1 drivers! Perhaps we could then get lower car insurance premiums.
This research paper was published in the US journal Brain and Cognition. The Canadian Institute of Health Research (CIHR), the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), and Health Canada (Santé Canada) jointly funded the project.