Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph. D.


Psychological and Brain Sciences

Degree Program

Clinical Psychology, PhD

Committee Chair

Mast, Benjamin

Committee Co-Chair (if applicable)

Meeks, Suzanne

Committee Member

Meeks, Suzanne

Committee Member

Friedland, Robert

Committee Member

Lyle, Keith

Committee Member

Salmon, Paul


Neuropsychology; Older musicians--Psychology; Older people--Psychology


Published literature studying children and adults musicians suggests significant differences in neuroanatomy, in brain regions that include the auditory and motor cortices, language centers, and frontal regions and tracts. Studies examining cognitive correlates to these neuroanatomical differences have consistently found that children and adult musicians have better cognitive abilities in the domains of language, verbal or non-verbal memory and executive function. Only one study has examined the differences in cognitive performance between older adult musicians and non-musicians to see how normal age-related cognitive changes may affect these differences. The current study compared cognitive test performance among older adult non-musicians, low-activity musicians (lessons), and high-activity musicians (>10 years of private lessons). The results of the current study found that musicians performed significantly better than non-musicians on some tests of language (confrontation naming, BNT), visual spatial ability (Block Design and Judgment of Line Orientation), and aspects of executive function (Delis-Kaplan Executive Function System – Color Word Interference). Significant differences were found between high-activity and non-musicians, and low-activity musicians’ scores generally fell in between these groups, suggesting a linear trend. The results also showed that within the two musician groups, number of years in private lessons was related to scores on verbal memory tests, and number of hours spent practicing at peak of training was related to one test of language and executive function (COWA-FAS), and visual spatial ability (Block Design). Age of beginning an instrument was not related to any test scores. Finally, regression analyses found that membership in either musician group (i.e., low-activity or high-activity) predicted scores on confrontation naming (BNT), one test of visual spatial ability (Judgment of Line Orientation), and one test of executive function (Color-Word Interference). The current study provides additional evidence to support increased cognitive performance within the domains of language, visual spatial ability, and executive function in older adult musicians when compared to non-musicians. However, the sample was relatively homogenous in terms of ethnicity, and was highly educated. Future studies should attempt to replicate this information in more ethnically and racially heterogeneous groups as well as with samples of lower education.