The Effect of Musical Training on Working Memory

Rachel Dumke


The use of PowerPoint technology to complement lecturing is a common teaching technique. This classroom technology requires students to process text, images, and spoken words in working memory; the temporary storage and active manipulation of information during everyday cognitive tasks. Previous research has shown that students are more adept at processing auditory and visual information versus printed text. The present experiment extended this work by investigating the role of musical training in the ability to process these modalities. Musical training gives rise to structural changes in the brain, particularly in areas associated with auditory and visual processing1. Thus, it is possible that musical training aids students’ working memory ability in the classroom. This project tested the ability of musicians and non-musicians to hold text, images, and spoken words in working memory. Undergraduate students were recruited from first year seminar courses for science or music majors (n=67). Participants were asked to view PowerPoint slides containing groups of 5 images (black and white or color), 5 written words, or 5 spoken words followed by a slide containing a simple math problem, serving as a distracter. Each participant wrote the answer to the math problem and then the text, images, or spoken words in exact order. Correct recall was calculated for each participant. The results showed that all students recalled spoken words most accurately, regardless of musical training. Years of musical training were positively correlated to recall of written text but not images or spoken words. Professors of general education courses who lecture to students with a variety of educational backgrounds may benefit from gaining further insight into how students process information in working memory. The use of spoken words and text in Power Point presentations may be more valuable than the use of images for student understanding.


Working Memory; Musical Training; Recall

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