Are There Differences In The Music Cognition Of Young And Old Adults?

20 Jan

Music cognition research has focused on the relationship between cognitive and musical abilities of infants (see: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6).  Yet, little research has investigated how music cognition changes throughout adult life.  Andrea R. Halpern and James C. Bartlett studied music cognition in young (18 through 30) and older adults (ages 60 through 80) and found that age and experience account for music cognition in our later years.

Experience > Age

In the similarity task pairs of melodies were presented, with one melody altered in contour, mode, or rhythm.  The participants were asked to rate how similar the pair of melodies were related and whether the two melodies were the same or different.  In the probe-tone task notes of a major triad were played (C-E-G-C) and were followed by a random note from the chromatic scale.  Participants were asked to determine how appropriate the final note fit with the previous tones using a 7 point scale.  The shepard tone task shared the methodology of the probe-tone task but used altered notes called “shepard tones” to remove the participants perception of pitch height.  The transposition task required participants to discern contour of the intervals of two melodies that were played in separated keys.

The results of these music tests showed that performance of old and young adults on music memory tests is susceptible to music experience but not to age. Those with experience, performed better regardless of age.  The researchers believe such implications support that the perception of universal attributes of music is unaffected by the aging process.

Age > Experience

The transposition task in this task required the participants to discriminate contour motion between two melodies.  In the music memory task, participants imagined familiar tunes and were presented with song titles.  Surveys were taken to measure how, or if at all, the participants were able to determine the age (new or old) of the songs.  And finally, the probe-tone task was used to determine if timbre would affect the perception of pitch height.

The results suggest that contour processing, old-new recognition, and reality monitoring (determining whether imagined events are separate from reality) are dependent on cognitive impairments as a result of aging.

The researchers conclude that musical experience can not compensate for the cognitive decline during the aging process. Though music training has benefits for senior citizens, it may not prevent or reverse cognitive impairment.

Halpern, A.R., & Bartlett, J.C. (2002). Aging and memory for music: a review. Psychomusicology, 18, 10-27.


One Response to “Are There Differences In The Music Cognition Of Young And Old Adults?”


  1. Tweets that mention Are There Differences In The Music Cognition Of Young And Old Adults? « parker tichko -- - January 21, 2011

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Hilgos Foundation, Parker Tichko. Parker Tichko said: Are there differences in the #music #cognition of young and old adults? #psychology #perception #training […]

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