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Does taking up music increase IQ?

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It's unclear.

A number of publications have claimed that learning to play a musical instrument significantly improves brain function, with some going as far as to quantify the increase as raising one's IQ by seven or more points. While there is some research linking playing a musical instruments to structural changes in the brains of 6-year-old children, it is not known whether these changes have any short or long term effect on the IQs of adults picking up music as a hobby.

Origin and Prevalence

The story originated on Inc.com on May 31, 2016. The news article used a published review paper by a well-known neuroscientist, Lutz Jancke, but misinterpreted it.

Issues and Analysis

The article states that a 2009 Biology Reports study conducted by a credible neuroscientist showed that learning to play an instrument raises your IQ, independent of your age. However, the publication cited is a brief review article talking about recent findings about music and brain plasticity and not a study conducted by Dr. Jancke.

The journalist also gives quotes apparently made by Dr. Jancke about his study with no apparent source.

Important distinctions are missed. As an example, the review article's major findings include changes in structural and functional brain plasticity in 6-year-old children that received musical training for 15 months. Nowhere is it mentioned that those changes could also be seen in adults learning to play an instrument.

Finally, the main point of the article published in Inc.com states that we can increase our IQ by playing an instrument. However, the review paper makes no claims about IQ; the only time IQ is mentioned is at future directions as a hypothesis, and is entirely theoretical.

Other studies are more favorable. There is a study conducted by Glenn Schellenberg that supports the hypothesis that music might have an influence on IQ. The study revealed that children enrolled in music classes had a greater IQ than children who received no music lessons. This difference was not seen in adults, and the increased IQ in children that were taking music lessons could be associated with their socioeconomic status. To date, it is known that socioeconomic status is significantly associated with intelligence growth factors and that children from low income households tend to perform worse on intelligence tests.

In conclusion, the Inc.com article misinterprets results of the review article, which talks mainly about the anatomical and functional changes in brain plasticity in people playing an instrument rather than the implication that playing an instrument increases your IQ. It also wrongly extrapolates research on a younger population to an adult population, and fails to grapple with socioeconomic factors. Both the headline and the article dramatically overstate the current findings of the field.

Further Readings

Gaser, C., & Schlaug, G. (2003). Brain structures differ between musicians and non-musicians. Journal of Neuroscience, 23(27), 9240-9245.

Tang, W., Xiong, W., Zhang, Y. X., Dong, Q., & Nan, Y. (2016). Musical experience facilitates lexical tone processing among Mandarin speakers: Behavioral and neural evidence. Neuropsychologia, 91, 247-253.

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The Digital Polarization Initiative is a student-run project which allows university students to investigate questions of truth and authority on the web and publish their results. Learn more, or see our index. Photo credits here. DigiPo members can edit this page.