Ever since the purported “Mozart Effect” (listening to Mozart can improve verbal and spatial skills), research has looked at how music training might influence cognitive functions outside the music domain. It’s no mystery that musicians generally perform better at listening tasks (those involving pitch discrimination, tempo and tapping tasks, and timbre discrimination) but how about non-musical tasks? Perhaps increasing IQ scores or other facets of intelligence?
Glenn Schellenberg decided to investigate whether there are differences between musicians and nonmusicians on a specific form of intelligence: emotional intelligence (EI). EI is often conceptualized in 4 hierarchical stages beginning with the ability to perceive emotions, understanding how emotions operate, utilizing emotions to facilitate thinking, and successfully managing emotions in social contexts. A study by Joel E. Resnicow, Peter Salovey, Bruno H. Repp found that emotional intelligence is related to how well people are able to discern portrayed emotion in music. Thus, it seems appropriate to ask whether music training might influence this or similar abilities. For the study, 106 undergraduates, aged from 17-24, were divided into two groups. One group had no music training (55 participants) while the other group consisted of musicians with 8 + years of private lessons (51 participants). The subjects were given the Mayer-Salovey-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test (MSCEIT) followed by the Kaufman Brief Intelligence Test (KBIT).
Schellenberg’s finding were consistent with previous research on music training and IQ: musicians scored higher on the KBIT than nonmusicians. However, no effect was found on the emotional intelligence test. This data is inconsistent with other studies that showed a positive correlation between emotional intelligence and years of music training, yet consistent with studies that have shown musicians have no advantage at identifying emotions in music. Though, this study did not find a correlation between music training and emotional intelligence, a persistent question remains– why do musicians score better on IQ tests? One explanation might be that there are certain challenges specific to performing and studying music. But the more probable answer has little to do with the “musical” qualities of artistic lessons: music training stimulates other domain-general cognitive functions like attention, arousal, and motor skills — all of which could be attributed to the increase in IQ. However, we might expect to see the same results in activities that expend these cognitive resources, say visual-arts or theater training. But studies that compare visual arts and theater training against music training, find little to no effect of increased IQ for the visual arts and theater groups. Thus, despite studies that demonstrate IQ differences between musicians and nonmusicians, we have little understanding of why these differences are present.
Schellenberg, G. E. (2012). Music lessons, emotional intelligence, and IQ. Music Perception, 29(2), 185-194.