Glenn Schellenberg, University of Toronto, Canada: "Does music make you smarter?"

This lecture is co-sponsored by BRAMS.


Does music make you smarter? Associations between music and cognitive functioning are notable only if the benefits apply reliably to nonmusical abilities and if music is unique in producing the effects. Such associations could arise either from music listening or music lessons, and there is no reason to believe that observed associations between cognitive abilities and music listening should parallel those involving music lessons. The available evidence indicates that music listening leads to enhanced performance on a variety of cognitive tests, but that such effects are short-term and stem from the impact of music on arousal level and mood, which, in turn, affect cognitive performance; experiences other than music listening have similar effects. Music lessons in childhood tell a different story. They are associated with small but general and long-lasting cognitive benefits that cannot be attributed to obvious confounding variables such as family income and parents’ education. Nonetheless, such associations may not be evident in samples of adults with many years of music lessons or among professional musicians. Moreover, the mechanisms underlying observed associations between music lessons and cognitive abilities have yet to be determined.



Glenn Schellenberg took piano lessons from the age of 5 to 16, and played in several rock bands as a teenager and a young adult. He subsequently composed music for video, television, and film, and he was nominated for a Genie award for Best Original Song for the 1994 musical film Zero Patience. He received a bachelor's degree in psychology and linguistics from the University of Toronto in 1989, and a doctorate in psychology and statistics from Cornell University in 1994. He held positions at the University of Windsor and Dalhousie University before accepting his present position at the University of Toronto in 1998, where he is currently a Professor of Psychology, cross-appointed to the Faculty of Music. His research focuses on reciprocal influences between cognition and music. He has published over 70 chapters and journal articles, including papers that appeared in Psychological Science, Cognition, Journal of Experimental Psychology, Developmental Psychology, Journal of Educational Psychology, Music Perception, and Psychology of Music.




APA video citation:

Schellenberg, G. (2012, October 19). Does music make you smarter? -
CIRMMT Distinguished Lectures in the Science and Technology of Music. [Video file].
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