Non-musicians can improve their ability to recall previously viewed faces by playing a rhythm-based game for eight weeks. This hints that training one’s musical memory can also benefit memory for things that aren’t music.
Multiple studies have shown that musicians, in comparison to the general population, have superior short-term memory for music-related activities like recalling musical sequences. The extent to which these advantages can be transferred to non-musical tasks or to non-musicians who are learning to play friday night funkin an instrument, and how these changes might really be detected in the brain, are less certain.
Theodore Zanto of UC San Francisco and his colleagues conducted an eight-week study in which they randomly assigned 47 non-musicians, aged 60 to 79, to play either a tablet-based musical rhythm training game, which simulates learning to pound a drum in time with a teacher, or a word search game.
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A short-term memory test was administered to each participant at the beginning and conclusion of the eight weeks to evaluate their ability to recall an image they viewed only seconds earlier. Only those who participated in the rhythm training game had a rise in their scores, and that rise was only about 4%.
The right superior parietal lobe, an area of the brain involved with visual information encoding and attention, was shown to be more active in brainwave data recorded before and after the training. Zanto concludes that this is evidence that rhythm training helps the brain better concentrate so that it can more easily commit new information to long-term memory.
This appears to be a mechanism for regulating focus within the memory system. Zanto explains that learning how to focus your attention on something might help you memorize it and then recall it later.
According to Josh Davis of the University of Greenwich in the UK, the ability to remember and recognize faces tends to deteriorate as we age, therefore any technique to reverse this is significant.
Davis cautions that further compelling evidence of the effect revealed in this study is required in both laboratory and real-world facial recognition settings.
Zanto thinks that a greater impact on memory recall can be achieved by continuing training for longer than eight weeks.