Dance and music training have different long-term effects on brain structure

Dance and music training

Dance and music training have shared and distinct features. Both demand long and intense physical training to master.

Dance engages the whole body, and requires the integration of visual, auditory and motor information. In comparison, music engages specific parts of the body and primarily requires the integration of auditory and motor information.

Comparing these two forms of long-term training offers a unique way to investigate brain plasticity.

In a recent study, scientists find that the two types of training can change the brain white matter in different ways. The finding is published in NeuroImage.

Researchers from International Laboratory for Brain, Music and Sound Research in Canada, Concordia University in Canada, McGill University and University of Montreal conducted the study.

They compared the effects of dance and music training on white matter structure using diffusion tensor imaging, and examined the relationship between training-induced brain changes and specific measures of dance and music abilities.

To this aim, groups of dancers and musicians matched for years of experience were tested with behavioral tasks and a range of DTI measures.

The result showed that dancers have increased diffusivity and reduced fiber coherence in white matter regions, including the corticospinal tract, superior longitudinal fasciculus and the corpus callosum.

In contrast, musicians showed reduced diffusivity and greater coherence of fibers in similar regions.

Crucially, diffusivity measures were related to performance on dance and music tasks that differentiated the groups. This showed that dance and music training could produce opposite effects on white matter structure.

Researchers suggest that intensive whole-body dance training may result in greater fanning of fibers connecting different brain regions, an increase in crossing fibers, or larger axon diameter.

In contrast, musical training may result in more focused enhancements of effector-specific pathways.

These findings expand the understanding of brain plasticity by emphasizing that different types of training can have different long-term effects on brain structure.

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Citation: Giacosa C, et al. (2016). Dance and music training have different effects on white matter diffusivity in sensorimotor pathways. NeuroImage, 135: 273-286.
Figure legend: This image is for illustrative purposes only.