Attention and multimodal working memory in musicians: effects of cognitive load and age
Individuals with high working memory (WM) capacity also tend to have better selective and divided attention. Although both capacities are essential for skilled performance in many areas, evidence for potential training and expertise effects is scarce. In a first study, we investigated the attentional flexibility of musical conductors by comparing them to equivalently trained pianists. Conductors must focus their attention both on individual instruments and on larger sections of different instruments. We investigated students and professionals in both domains to assess the contributions of age and training to these skills. Participants completed WM span tests for auditory and visual (notated) pitches and timing durations, as well as long-term memory tests. In three dichotic attention tasks, they were asked to detect small pitch and timing deviations from two melodic streams presented in baseline (separate streams), selective-attention (concentrating on only one stream), and divided-attention (concentrating on targets in both streams simultaneously) conditions.
Conductors were better than pianists in detecting timing deviations in divided attention, and experts detected more targets than students. Musicians’ WM spans across multimodal conditions were positively related to selective and divided attention. High-WM participants also had shorter reaction times in selective attention. Taken together, conductors showed higher attentional flexibility in successfully switching between different foci of attention. Age did not limit participants’ cognitive skills in any of the tests, and experts’ higher age even partially accounted for some of the variance in the data, and showed relationships with higher visual WM spans and better target detection in the divided-attention tests. These findings suggest that experts may retain the cognitive functioning in their respective domains to a high degree. In other words, musical training may even function as a protective factor or cognitive reserve in older age.
In two follow-up studies, we investigate multimodal working memory for different musical genres (aural versus visual traditions) as well as the process of “zooming in and out” by attending to different levels of musical detail.
Prof. Dr. Clemens Wöllner
Prof. Dr. Andrea Halpern, Bucknell University, USA
Wöllner, C. & Halpern, A. (2016). Attentional flexibility and memory capacity in conductors and pianists. Attention, Perception, & Psychophysics, 78(1), 198–208.
Wöllner, C. & Halpern, A. (2015). Conductors at cocktail parties: attention and memory in musicians. Proceedings of the Ninth Triennial Conference of the European Society for the Cognitive Sciences of Music, 17-22 August 2015, Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester.
Wöllner, C. & Halpern, A. (2015). Auditory, visual, and verbal working memory in different musical professions. International Conference on the Multimodal Experience of Music, 23–25 March 2015, University of Sheffield.
- Dauer: 2014-2017
- Projektleitung: Prof. Dr. Clemens Wöllner