Non-musicians who play a friday night funkin rhythm-based game for eight weeks improve their memory of recently seen faces. This suggests that learning to play an instrument could help with non-musical short-term memory.
Several studies have found that musicians have better short-term memory than non-musicians when it comes to music-related tasks like remembering musical sequences. It is less clear whether these benefits extend to non-musical tasks or to non-musicians learning to play an instrument, as well as how these changes may manifest in the brain.
For eight weeks, Theodore Zanto and colleagues at the University of California, San Francisco randomly assigned a group of 47 non-musicians aged 60 to 79 to play either a tablet-based musical rhythm training game, which simulates learning to hit a drum in time with a teacher, or a word search game.
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Participants took a short-term memory test at the beginning and end of the eight weeks to assess their ability to recall a face they saw seconds before. Only the group that played the rhythm training game improved on their initial scores by around 4%.
Brainwave activity in the right superior parietal lobe, a brain region associated with encoding visual information and attention, increased before and after training. According to Zanto, this suggests that rhythm training improves the brain’s ability to focus attention on a task in preparation for converting what you’re doing into memory.
“This appears to be an attention control aspect of memory… “It’s orienting your attention in such a way that you can encode it into memory and then retrieve it from memory,” Zanto explains.
According to Josh Davis of the University of Greenwich in the United Kingdom, our ability to remember and recognize faces declines as we age, so any mechanism that can reverse this is important.
According to Davis, the effect demonstrated in this study needs to be demonstrated in real-world facial recognition scenarios as well as lab-based tests to be completely convincing.
Zanto believes that extending the training period beyond eight weeks will have a greater impact on memory recall.