FLICKR, HYEKAB25Expert classical musicians—those with more than 10,000 hours of training—are better able to distinguish tactile from auditory stimuli, according to research presented as a poster at the annual conference of the Society for Neuroscience (SfN) today (November 12).
“There is no training more complete than musical training,” lead author Julie Roy, a graduate student at the University of Montreal, told The Scientist, noting that music involves not just auditory stimuli, but motor, tactile, and even emotional skills. Indeed, musicians tend to be more apt at hearing speech and noises as well as learning new languages.
To test the ability of musicians to differentiate between different sensory inputs, Roy and her colleagues used an audiotactile task in which participants heard a quick series of two or more beeps, while simultaneously feeling a single vibration on their finger. The researchers told participants to ignore the beeps and simply report on the tactile stimulation. While musicians consistently reported feeling just a single vibration, nonmusicians were “tricked” into feeling more vibrations as a result of the multiple beeps they heard.
Musicians appear to be “more free in using their multisensory processing,” said Roy, who is a pianist and singer herself. In other words, they can “segregate or integrate the information more freely.” Importantly, Roy notes, this is a learned skill, suggesting that multisensory processing could be influenced with long-term training.