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Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Neuromythology

I am learning new words every day.

Recently I stumbled over he word 'neuromythology'. It is a word I, retrospectively, had been looking for for a long time. It also is a word that has been around for a considerable amount of time - at least a decade. It is just that we only met recently.

In music education, there is quite some neuromythology going on. Neurosicience, the mythology tells us, is proving that music enhances empathy, fosters 'cognition' or academic skills, et cetera. It has been proven. It is true. Very true. Music is great. Very great. We must include it in our schools. Must not wait any longer. MUST act now.

Et cetera.

Luckily, researchers are looking into these neuromythological claims. It turns out, I learnt recently in a paper presentation, that neuroscientific researchers in general are very careful with their claims about music. They normally don't confuse correlation with causation, nor the labaratoire with everyday life outside it. But then, journalists popularize their work, and music education advocates take up their popularizations, and neuromythology gradually is born.

Recently, researchers looked into the acceptance of neuromyths among music education students and among teachers in primary and secondary schools. One of the myths presented to them was "cognitive abilities, e.g. intelligence in children, can be effectively enhanced by music education". Over 70% of respondents judged this myth - wrongly - as scientifically substantiated.

(For those of my readers who also believe this is true, I refer to the conclusion of another article: a recent metastudy "... suggests [see how careful resarcers are?] that music training does not reliably enhance children and young adolescents' cognitive or academic skilss and that previous positive findings were probably due to confounding variables".)

What worries me in all this is not so much that we use neuromythology rather than neuroscientific findings in our justification of the importance of music education. What worries me most is that we, in music education, seem to think that the primary justification of the importance of music in education can be derived from neuroscience in the first place. Although of course neuroscientific findings may help to underpin one's thinking about the importance of music education, it is only one of the many sources of knowledge we need.

As long as we think that the question 'why music education?' can be answered by simply pointing to fMRI-scans, I think there is little hope for music education to reclaim its potential important place within schools.

There's no excuse for laziness.


Nina Düvel, Anna Wolf, Reinhard Kopiez - Neuromyths in music education. Prevalence and predictors of misconceptions among teachers and students. Frontiers in Psychology 8 (2017)

Giovanni Sala, Fernand Gobet - When the music's over. Does music skill transfer to children's and young adolescents' cognitive and academic skills? A meta-analysis. Educational Research Review 20 (2017)

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