Beyond the Mozart effect: Age-related cognitive functioning in instrumental music participants

Steven Roger Moser


The purpose of this study was to identify differences in the cognitive functioning of healthy older wind and percussion instrumental musicians, compared with the normative data for the same cognitive measures and demographic variables. A convenience sample was used, consisting of 120 instrumental musicians, 55 years and older, active in selected community band organizations in Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, and Washington D.C. Test measures included the Mini Mental State Examination, Trailmaking Tests A and B, and the Satisfaction With Life Scale. Data were collected and scored by the researcher in accordance with the guidelines developed by the instruments' authors. Variables under study were analyzed and the results were presented to correspond to the following issues: the relationship between music participation and cognitive performance; the relationship of cognitive performance and music participation to demographic variables; and the relationship between life satisfaction scores, music participation and cognitive performance. The results indicated that the participants in this study demonstrated higher cognitive functioning when compared to the normative means for this age group on global cognition, psychomotor function, memory recall, and executive function. Though other factors may have influenced cognitive functioning for this sample, the strength of the demographic observations coupled with the highly successful test results indicated a strong, perhaps untested link between the lifestyles of amateur instrumental musicians and healthy cognitive aging. While causality cannot be inferred from this study design, the study revealed three important findings: (a) the older adult instrumental music sample performed better than the general population in global cognitive functioning and memory recall skills; (b) the older adult instrumental music sample performed better than the general population in executive functioning and psychomotor functioning; and (c) the older adult instrumental music sample were generally satisfied with life. While the intention of the study was to illuminate the possibilities of a positive relationship between music and healthy cognitive aging, the intellectual and perceptual abilities to functional outcome may be the next research strategy for cognitive performance among this population. Such research might offer both a scientific test of the role of hypothesized abilities on functional performance and generate practical strategies to improve performance.