Music Training Leads to Better Emotional Comprehension

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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  • shelley


    November 11th, 2012 at 5:29 AM

    If we know this for a fact then how on earth can we ever justify cutting critical funding for arts education?

    It seems that everyone would benefit from that



    November 11th, 2012 at 11:17 AM

    I do not know the benefits of music per se but any hobby can be good for an individual and especially so for young people.Their developing mind reacts better to constructive hobbies and also because music has therapeutic properties maybe it has some role to play.

  • tanya o

    tanya o

    November 11th, 2012 at 11:56 PM

    It seems like this study is making some jumps. I think the dots need to be a little closer together. The theory was basically disproved, but yet the author then goes on to suggest that this non-valid conclusion can be applied to sports as well. In the end, music lessons have value because they develop the brain. Studies have conclusively shown that music study is a good brain activity for both young and old. Yet even more proof from shelley’s comment about arts education. I’m glad Big Bird got to stick around!

  • Kevin


    November 11th, 2012 at 11:58 PM

    I took private piano lessons when I was growing up. I am sure it did wonderful things for my brain, but the best thing was the relationship I had with my teacher. She understood and “got” me when not many people did. I was a bit odd growing up (and probably still am today). So, having someone I got to see once a week for an hour was almost therapy as much as it was instruction. So, I can see how the teacher of the music students could also influence their emotional comprehension and well being. I wonder if this study took the instructor into account?

  • Matt


    November 12th, 2012 at 4:05 AM

    The thought that music can improve your emotional IQ is not a new one, but I do think that there are many people who fail to realize how much of a positive impact that music can play in the lives of most any student.

    Yes, there are studies like this that show that music improves your emotional well being, and that is awesome by itself. But overall when you have music and an appreciation for music in your life then it also gives a whole new meaning to being a well rounded person and one who can appreciate and talk about the arts with anyone on any level.

    This is something that is too important for our students to lose, because when this aspect of their education is cut they are missing far more than a related arts class. They are missing out on one of the best opportunities to shine that they could ever have and that would be a shame.

  • Marsh


    November 12th, 2012 at 7:05 AM

    I do not know if my music has made me a more emotionally competent person but it has certainly helped in a lot of areas,right from never being a stranger anywhere thanks to people anywhere ready to talk about music,to growing my social circle,and maybe even a future career.If you ask me,anything that interests you can make you a better person and help you in many areas,you just need to identify which one is the right fit for you.

  • ricardo


    November 12th, 2012 at 12:42 PM

    if you are outgoing and have a well balanced life and have no music in life then that’s fine.but be involved in music and shut yourself off from everything else,then your emotional comprehension will DECREASE and not increase.I think the music can have positive effect n us but not without other aspects involved.we are still controlled by nature and nurture.its never a single element and we would do well to understand that.

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