Trained musicians are better at paying attention


by Matthew Lorenzo

Trained musicians are less easily distracted than non-musicians when performing demanding tasks, researchers have found.

The researchers from the Center for Advanced Research in Education at the University of Chile compared 18 conservatory-trained pianists with 18 non-musicians while they completed an attentional networks test. The test required participants to view and provide feedback on rapidly changing images.

The pianists, who each had completed more than 12 years of musical training, exhibited greater executive control, meaning they were better able to suppress irrelevant, distracting information.


Executive control is performed by one of the three anatomically distinct neural subsystems involved in paying attention. The other two are the alerting subsystem, which maintains readiness for action, and the orienting subsystem, which selects important sensory information. The study also found that the alerting and orienting networks of the musicians were highly correlated, suggesting they work closely together when practising music.

“Professional musicians are able to more quickly and accurately respond to and focus on what is important to perform a task,” Paulo Barrazza, the lead researcher, said.

The researchers believe musical training could be used to strengthen the attentional abilities of students, especially those with ADHD.

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