Good Musicians Have Significantly Faster Reaction Times

guitarist Jimi Hendrix in Stockholm, Sweden, on May 24, 1967. Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

On top of being immeasurably sexier than the average individual (which is practically verified by science), it looks like being a musician might have another benefit when it comes to their reaction times.

In a new study published in Brain and Cognition, researchers from the University of Montreal have assessed the reaction times of 19 non-musicians compared to that of 16 skilled musicians, including 8 pianists, 3 violinists, 2 percussionists, one double bassist, one harpist, and one viola player. The musicians had all started playing instruments before the age of 10 and had been trained for at least seven years. All but one were skilled at two or more instruments.

The test simply consisted of participants placing one index finger on a computer mouse and the other on a small box that vibrated intermittently. Within the room, there was also a speaker that burst out white-noise intermittently. When either the box vibrated, the noise rung, or both went off at the same time, they were asked to click the mouse, which registered their reaction times. Simple.

The musicians were consistently seen to be “significantly faster” for both multi-sensory and uni-sensory reaction times. “These results suggest for the first time that long-term musical training reduces simple non-musical auditory, tactile, and multisensory reaction times,” said lead author, doctoral student Simon Landry, in a statement.

The study notes that other neuroimaging research has shown how pianists have greater co-activation between cortexes of the brain, such as the secondary somatosensory cortex and posterior parietal cortex, that process audio-tactile (hearing-touch) integration. The researchers speculate it could very well be a similar case here, where instrument practice could neurologically change areas of the brain to become more flexible and responsive to each other.

Not only is this a much needed ego-boost to musicians, the researchers also hope to apply their findings to help older individuals.

Landry explained: “The more we know about the impact of music on really basic sensory processes, the more we can apply musical training to individuals who might have slower reaction times. As people get older, for example, we know their reaction times get slower. So if we know that playing a musical instrument increases reaction times, then maybe playing an instrument will be helpful for them."

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