Children who have a musical background tend to perform better in several domains than children with no musical training. For instance, children with musical training score higher on verbal, nonverbal, memory, intelligence, and academic tests than those who never had music lessons. Music is considered to be a key component of emotional comprehension and is intertwined with emotional expression and feelings. Therefore, it could be theorized that children with a musical foundation may be better equipped to accurately comprehend emotions than those without. To test this theory, Glenn E. Schellenberg of the University of Toronto Mississauga in Canada recently led a study using the Test of Emotion Comprehension (TEC) to examine the emotional comprehension of 7- and 8-year-old participants with and without musical training. Schellenberg also assessed the IQs of the participants as intelligence influences emotional understanding and could affect the results.
Schellenberg found that the children with musical training had higher IQs and higher scores on the TEC than those without any musical education. However, when the children were grouped into similar IQ classifications, there was relatively no difference in the TEC scores within groups. This suggests that the relationship between emotional comprehension and musical training is strongly affected by cognitive ability. This could be explained by the possibility that children with higher intelligence may be more likely to have music lessons than those with lower intelligence. “At the very least, the findings make it clear that IQ should be held constant when examining the possibility of an association between music training and any nonmusical ability,” Schellenberg said.
One explanation for the link between emotional comprehension and musical training could be the fact musical training provides an understanding of auditory nuances such as rhythm and semantics that could allow for better comprehension of emotional responses. However, when Schellenberg made the experiment more challenging and added pitch, intensity, and duration shifts to the auditory cues, the advantage of the musically trained children disappeared. In fact, the children who received individual lessons performed no better than those who participated in group lessons and other group activities. This suggests that group musical classes and other social activities performed in groups, such as sports, may have an equally beneficial effect on emotional comprehension in children.
Schellenberg, Glenn E., and Monika Mankarious. Music training and emotion comprehension in childhood. Emotion 12.5 (2012): 887-91. Print.
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