August 21, 2009

Music may enhance hearing

U.S. researchers say trained musicians are better able to discern speech in noisy environments.

The study, published in Ear and Hearing, supports the potential therapeutic and rehabilitation uses of musical training for those with hearing and communication disorders.

The study points to a highly pragmatic side of music's magic, Nina Kraus, director of the lab at Northwestern University, Evanston, Ill., says in a statement.

The researchers asked 31 study participants with normal hearing and a mean age of 23 -- half with music experience and half without -- to listen to sentences presented in increasingly noisy conditions and repeat back what they heard.

Better perception in noise was linked with better working memory and tone discrimination ability. The researchers say the results implied musical training may reorder brain circuitry so the ability to hear speech in challenging listening environments becomes enhanced.

The findings strongly support the potential therapeutic and rehabilitation use of musical training to address auditory processing and communication disorders, especially in the elderly.