Cognitive and academic benefits of music training with children: A multilevel meta-analysis

Giovanni Sala, Fernand Gobet

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

Music training has repeatedly been claimed to positively impact children’s cognitive skills and academic achievement (literacy and mathematics). This claim relies on the assumption that engaging in intellectually demanding activities fosters particular domain-general cognitive skills, or even general intelligence. The present meta-analytic review (N = 6,984, k = 254, m = 54) shows that this belief is incorrect. Once the quality of study design is controlled for, the overall effect of music training programs is null (g¯ ≈ 0) and highly consistent across studies (τ2 ≈ 0). Results of Bayesian analyses employing distributional assumptions (informative priors) derived from previous research in cognitive training corroborate these conclusions. Small statistically significant overall effects are obtained only in those studies implementing no random allocation of participants and employing non-active controls (g¯ ≈ 0.200, p <.001). Interestingly, music training is ineffective regardless of the type of outcome measure (e.g., verbal, non-verbal, speed-related, etc.), participants’ age, and duration of training. Furthermore, we note that, beyond meta-analysis of experimental studies, a considerable amount of cross-sectional evidence indicates that engagement in music has no impact on people’s non-music cognitive skills or academic achievement. We conclude that researchers’ optimism about the benefits of music training is empirically unjustified and stems from misinterpretation of the empirical data and, possibly, confirmation bias.

Original languageEnglish
JournalMemory and Cognition
DOIs
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)

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