An investigation into the benefits of musical training on cognitive control and emotional processing abilities
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Evidence suggests that engagement in musical activity may confer cognitive control advantages though it is not clear why this may be. Here it was explored why such advantages may be observed, exploring a potential underlying mechanism which may be responsible for these enhancements using EEG, behavioural, and self-rating methods. Chapters two and three were unable to replicate previous research which report an association between musical training and enhanced cognitive control, though the results suggest that musical training may heighten emotional responses to errors. Considering that musical performance and training involves active, frequent, and repeated engagement with emotional material, chapters four and five aimed to investigate whether musical training can lead to enhancements in emotional processing abilities using a variety of questionnaires and behavioural tasks. Chapter four found significant associations between musical training and enhanced emotional sound recognition accuracy and empathic abilities, although these effects were not replicated in the subsequent chapter, which detected only similar numerical trends. Chapter six was carried out to investigate if the potential association between musical training and enhanced empathy could be observed in a larger and more diverse sample. Furthermore, activities which use similar higher order processes were included to investigate if they could confer the same potential advantages. This study again failed to find a relationship between musical training and enhanced empathy, though dance and sport were significant predictors of higher empathy levels. Considering that all studies reported in this thesis are cross-sectional, these fragile results could be partially due to individual differences between groups and studies. In sum, the results of this thesis provide limited evidence that musical training may enhance specific emotional processing abilities and affective responses to errors which may lead to both enhanced cognitive control, and improved social awareness and interactions with others.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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